A welcome end to the pain of mobile roaming charges

Morning View
Morning View

Rarely do people across Europe welcome rules and regulations from the European Union.

But one such development yesterday was cheered across the continent – the scrapping of roaming charges.

The abolition of the charges was met with particular joy in Northern Ireland, given our long border with the Republic.

There was a time, a decade or so ago, when some phone users who lived or worked close to the border believed that mobile companies deliberately put up powerful masts on the edge of one jurisdiction, to pull in users located well into the other.

Even phone users in places such as Portstewart were sometimes connected to masts in Donegal, far across the bay.

The per minute cost to the individual whose phone switched into the neighbouring jurisdiction was high. It wasn’t just border residents who were affected: non vigilant users of mobile devices would return from holidays on the continent with bills of hundreds of pounds.

Roaming charges were once swingeing, at rates as high as £1 a minute, but over the last eight years the EU has pushed them down. As European Commission vice president Andrus Ansip says, abolition boosts the digital single market. It is the sort of borderless business that Europeans want to see.

But there is an argument to be made that the mobile companies should be allowed to maintain the interim rates that will prevail next year, of slightly higher charges of up to 3p per minute, because they will have some way of recouping the cost of Europe-wide phone use.

There is a risk otherwise that overall bills will have to rise to subsidise the loss to phone companies. However, such companies deserve little sympathy. They have hugely profitable licences and have used their monopolies to make vast profits.

Over the longer term, technology keeps pushing down telecommunication costs. Technological advance and borderless commerce have their downsides but yesterday’s announcement was a happy illustration of the benefits.