Wednesday 16 August 2017

End of roaming fees - but mind Facebook and WhatsApp use

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Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Mobile phone charges for roaming calls and texts in the EU are to finally end this week.

However, consumers are being warned that they could still face steep EU roaming bills for using services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

The new EU-wide law comes into force on Thursday, June 15. Under the rules, all calls and texts included in Irish phone plans will be treated the same if they travel throughout the EU.

But roaming charges across the EU will remain for data services, with only a portion of Irish users' data allowances exempt from the roaming ban.

Under the new law, mobile operators are allowed to charge up to €9.50 for a gigabyte (GB) of data.

A gigabyte of data is roughly enough to use Facebook and YouTube for a couple of hours. It is also the equivalent of an hour-long Netflix episode.

But with just 48 hours to go until the new law comes in, some Irish operators had not yet informed customers about so-called "fair use" exceptions in the law that allow mobile operators to keep charging more for using data services abroad.

Under the new rules, operators are allowed to limit users' Facebook, Google and data usage to a percentage of their domestic allowance.

In general, consumers are entitled to around 2GB of EU roaming data for every €10 they spend on their normal monthly mobile plan here, up to the limit of what they actually get domestically.

This can be imposed by the mobile operator even if the consumer has a large or 'all you can eat' data allowance at home.

A person who spends €20 per month on a prepay mobile service that includes 10GB of data here will only be entitled to around 4GB of that data when travelling in the EU, before big roaming fees kick in again.

Most Irish mobile operators say that they will limit their users' domestic data packages as much as they can under the new law. Roaming still represents a highly profitable chunk of operators' income.

However, a spokeswoman for Vodafone Ireland said that the operator will be providing full data allowances to customers travelling throughout the EU.

Vodafone Ireland offers less data than rivals such as Three, meaning it has less to lose by respecting the full domestic data allowance.

Earlier this year, the European Commission was forced to publicly warn Irish operators that they could not get around the EU law by artificially splitting their usage plans into "core" and "benefit" segments.

However, the commission has also been accused of confusing consumers by insisting that the new law means a "roam like home" regime with "no additional charges".

Irish Independent

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