New rules on mobile network roaming charges came into effect in Europe this month, with the European Commission forcing network operators to cap the charges they apply to users accessing data via their smartphones while travelling abroad within the European Union.
The move reduces the cost of making calls and accessing internet services for those roaming away from their home network by as much as 36 percent, according to some estimates. New rules will also come into effect next year, which are designed to create more innovation for roaming services across the EU, as V3 reported this week.
This is seen as good news for consumers, and the same applies to business travellers. Nobody likes being hit with an unexpectedly large mobile bill while abroad, and these measures will not only address that, but may also encourage those travellers who cautiously turn off data roaming to actively make use of mobile internet services, ultimately benefiting the carriers.
It's worth taking a moment to reflect that we have the European Commission to thank for these changes, and that British consumers and British businesses stand to benefit because we are a part of the European Union.
All too often, press coverage of Europe and European affairs in the UK is witheringly and uncompromisingly negative, and this has led some in this country to push for Britain to leave the European Union altogether.
I don't usually get involved in political arguments, but it seems to me that this would be bad for business. It's entirely self evident to most businesses in the UK, but it takes something like the roaming charges issue to drive it home to the average person in the street, many of whose attitudes to Europe have been coloured by the jaundiced output of the tabloids.
Let's imagine that the UK does elect to leave the EU. UK mobile networks would no longer be subject to the EC ruling, and more importantly, European carriers would no longer have to apply the cap on charges to visitors from the UK who travel to the continent with their mobile phones and roam onto their network.
The result would be a return to the days of "bill shock", where seemingly unsuspecting consumers have found themselves with massive bills after returning to the UK from a trip to another European country.
The fact that many of the networks you end up connecting to while travelling across Europe are simply another subsidiary of the network you are a subscriber to at home make high roaming charges even more of a scandal.
It's also interesting to contrast the European Commission's approach with the UK government's complete inaction on such matters. Successive governments, whether Labour or Conservative, have followed the line that pricing is something that is best left to the market to decide.
Our government stuck to this position of dogma even when it became clear that "leaving it to the market" simply wasn't working, and allowed the carriers to operate like a cosy cartel where they could profit by charging each other's subscribers massively inflated roaming fees.
In fact, the position of "let the market decide" seems to be one of the major reasons behind the current UK government's threat to pull out of Europe. It is strongly opposed to the kind of regulatory intervention typified by the EC ruling on roaming charges, and instead wants to have the UK follow a similar path to the US economy – on our own, if necessary.
In my opinion, this is a mistake. The UK does not have the resources or sheer scale of economy to copy the success of the US; they have Silicon Valley, while we have Silicon Roundabout.
Meanwhile, the "let the market decide" approach also failed to deliver customer benefits in the US; it led to a fragmented mobile market, in contrast to the European GSM standard that enabled subscribers to easily switch networks and upgrade phones when they wanted.
While the European Union clearly has many faults, it is worth remembering that it also has a positive side. Creating a single market for goods and technologies, and intervening when markets and governments are failing to pass on the promised benefits to consumers and businesses alike are just some of them.
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