'Misleading' mobile roaming charges banned across EU
Rip-off mobile roaming charges for calls and texts have officially been banned across the EU from today, as a new international law comes into effect.
However, there are fears that Irish phone users could still get caught by hidden EU roaming charges which are the result of a deal between mobile operators and the European Commission.
"From now on, citizens who travel within the EU will be able to call, text and connect on their mobile devices at the same price as they pay at home," said EU Commission president Jean Claude Juncker. "Roaming charges will now be a thing of the past."
However, consumer bodies have labelled some aspects of the new law "misleading" after it was confirmed that the new roaming law won't cover domestic data allowances for large numbers of Irish phone users.
"The 'roam like at home' name is somewhat misleading," said Robyn Hamilton of price comparison service Bonkers.ie. "Mobile customers with unlimited plans will still be subject to data caps while roaming."
Under the new law, over a million Irish phone users will only be entitled to a small percentage of their usual data allowance when travelling in the EU. A new roaming charge of €9.50 per gigabyte of data will then apply. A gigabyte of data is roughly enough to use Facebook and YouTube for a couple of hours, or watch an hour-long Netflix episode.
Commission officials and Irish politicians have been silent on the loophole, leading to fears that Irish holidaymakers are likely to face nasty roaming bills this summer.
"People will have to connect to wi-fi where possible and contact their operator to confirm their data roaming limit," said Ms Hamilton. "Basically, don't Netflix binge in Paris as you would in Portlaoise."
Recent figures from Ireland's telecoms regulator show that Irish people now use their phones more for data services such as Facebook than for calls or texts.
According to the new law, 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 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 a month on a prepay mobile service that includes 30GB 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 as roaming still represents a highly profitable chunk of operators' income.
However, Vodafone Ireland has pledged to offer the full amount of domestic data to customers travelling across the EU.