UK warns of £45 Brexit mobile data cap, but operators say no

EU flag.jpg

The UK government has warned people in Britain that the EU’s law on free mobile roaming will cease to apply at the end of 2020.

However, UK-based mobile operators have told Capacity that they don’t currently plan to introduce charges for their customers after the UK leaves the EU.

A spokeswoman for EE, owned by BT and the operator with the biggest share of the UK mobile market, said: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and we have no plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome.”

A Vodafone UK communications executive said: “We have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges for Vodafone UK customers visiting the EU. We hope any potential Brexit outcome will avoid the need to change this position.”

The UK officially departs from the 28-nation EU tonight, but there follows an 11-month transitional period during which EU rules will still apply – while the UK and EU negotiate a large number of trade deals that will set out the future relationship between the two.

The European Commission, the administrative arm of the EU, introduced its “roam like at home” rule for all mobile customers in the EU in June 2017. The rule includes other members of the European Economic Area, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Despite initial opposition from some operators across Europe, mobile companies have on the whole welcomed the move, as business and leisure travellers no longer disable roaming when they cross borders and keep their services connected. Within the first few months, the use of roaming mobile data in the EU went up fourfold.

However the UK government has admitted that mobile operators will be able to impose high roaming charges after the transition period. It put out a briefing note – described as a guidance for travellers from 1 January 2021 – warning that UK operators have a right to charge up to £45 for mobile data.

“Once you reach £45, you need to opt in to spend more so that you can continue using the internet while you’re abroad,” the briefing note warned. “Your phone operator will tell how you can do this.”

However operators told Capacity they have no plans to reintroduce roaming changes for UK customers in the EU. A representative of Three UK, owned by CK Hutchison, said: “Three is the global leader in international roaming and offers roaming at no extra cost for its customers in over 70 destinations including Brazil, Singapore, the US and Australia. We’re committed to eradicating excessive roaming charges and will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations allowing our customers to continue using their usual allowances when they travel within the EU.”

However, operators in the EU, now just 27 nations after tonight, will equally have the right to impose roaming charges for their customers travelling to the UK after January 2021.

When the EU rules were first proposed in 2016, carriers in countries with huge incoming roaming traffic such as Spain and France were said to want higher rates, while carriers in the Baltic and eastern European countries were arguing that removing retail roaming rates would force them to increase domestic prices.