Friday, 13 April 2007

Just say no to EU roaming

This is funny, I’ve been complaining for the last week about how Europeans should demand an end to roaming mobile charges within the EU, and then the issue goes before the EU parliament today.

The assembly voted to restrict the amount that mobile phone carriers can charge EU consumers for roaming in other EU countries. Right now, if I wanted to use my phone when I go to France next weekend, for instance, I would have to pay over a dollar a minute to make or receive a call. Same with text messages or internet use.

I’ve been complaining about this because I gave in last week and signed up for a monthly mobile plan. I really shouldn’t have one, I don’t like talking on the phone very much (I really just have short conversations to make plans) so I don’t use many minutes, pay-as-you-go would have been the better system for me. But I really wanted the new N95, and without signing up for a plan it would have been $1,000.

I also got the free unlimited internet and GPS locating. But what’s annoying is that the times when I’ll most want to be using it, namely when I’m traveling, I can’t use it. Since the UK is a tiny country, when I’m traveling I’ll most likely be in a different country in Europe. At those times the rate for going online or using GPS would be outrageous, as would be any attempt to make a call.

I’ve been trying to get my British friends to understand how unfair and frustrating this is. In the US, when you travel you are most likely staying within the country. That means anywhere you go, you are never roaming. I can take a trip to LA, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, anywhere I like, and I will never be roaming. And, it isn’t any extra to call numbers in those places either. Every cell phone plan comes with nationwide calling, no long distance anywhere domestic, ever. That means when I moved around so much the past few years I was able to keep my New York number, because it wasn’t any extra for people in Chicago to call me.

This wasn’t always the case. When cell phones first came out most plans were just regional, meaning that if you left your individual coverage area (Connecticut, for instance) you were roaming. But eventually the market took action, one company offered nationwide coverage, and soon they all followed. Once again, the large unified market of the US worked to the benefit of consumers.

What angers me is that all of the big mobile carriers in Europe, TMobile, Vodaphone, and Orange for instance, operate all over the country. I have TMobile. But if I use the TMobile network in Germany, I get charged roaming. I think that’s pretty outrageous. So I’ve been asking, since the EU is trying to encourage open borders and an open trade zone, shouldn’t the force the mobile carriers to allow their customers to use their entire network?

Now I guess they’ve taken a step in the right direction by voting to cap roaming rates at 40 Euro cents a minute to make a call and 15 Euro cents a minute to receive one. If it passes the final hurdle the changes will hopefully go into effect by this summer.

While I welcome this decision, I think it doesn’t go far enough. I think the major carriers should be forced to allow consumers to use their entire network within the EU. I really don’t understand why one of them hasn’t done it. Think about it, if TMobile suddenly said we’re going to open up our entire European network, they would get tons of people switching to it. It would shut down their small local competitors and give them a huge edge in every market.

For all you Eurosceptics out there this is just another example of how not having a single market hurts you as a consumer. Think about the myriad advantages Americans have because we have such a gigantic open market. This point is rarely made by politicians here, but it would go a long way in swaying the public toward the EU project.

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