My Column – Ending roaming charges: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United States of America, Israel, Switzerland, Macau, New Zealand, Sri Lanka. What do these countries have in common?

The answer is, on my mobile phone network it’s free for me to use my mobile phone in any of those countries (within my regular monthly allowances). There are no mobile phone roaming charges at all. They are also countries outside the European Union.

In fact, there are more non-EU countries than EU countries where it’s free for me to use my phone abroad. That’s the free market at work. Customers demand a change, and mobile phone networks work with partners abroad to ensure savings for the consumer. What a wonderful thing the free market can be, when it works well!

Oh, there are certainly industries and times where a free market can break down, and there are extreme situations where government intervention might be necessary but, in general, government meddling makes things worse while competition leads to lower prices and consumer choice.

The free market says that actually, for most consumers, it’s more important to end mobile phone roaming charges from the USA than it is from Belgium.

The free market tells us that it’s better to have free calls from Australia or Sri Lanka than it is to have free calls from Estonia or Lithuania.

Perhaps that’s because, in general, it’s of more benefit to consumers. Or maybe it’s because it’s easier for phone companies to work together to provide that benefit.

Within the continent of Europe, the free market already gives free calls to me if I travel to France, Italy, Switzerland or Spain.

That’s pretty useful for tourists, isn’t it? They’re destinations that tourists often travel to and, in the case of Switzerland, there are probably financial reasons too.

So far, so good. There’s been no mention of the words “European Union”. But the EU now intends to make mobile phone roaming charges illegal across all 28 European Union countries. Yes, they’re going to force mobile phone companies to provide a “free” service to consumers.

What does the word “free” mean in this context though? Well, it means that mobile phone companies will have to provide a cheaper service in countries where their business model doesn’t support it. If you force companies to do something unprofitable, they respond quite naturally by putting their prices up elsewhere.

It means that, in order to get free calls from Latvia, I will have to pay more on my monthly phone bill. I note that the Labour Party members of the European Parliament are generally highly supportive of this idea.

It’ll mean free calls for those working in Belgium – great for MEPs in Brussels, but I personally think it’s fundamentally wrong for us to all pay extra on our monthly phone bills to make sure that MEPs get free calls when working in Belgium.

An idea which sounds so brilliant in theory – “Cheaper calls for every tourist” – actually means higher monthly phone bills in practice. That’s the European Union way. They claim to give us all extra freedoms, rights, cheaper prices but, like everything that’s supposedly “free”, there’s always a catch.

The problem is that the European Commission and Parliament are in a bubble so detached from the people that they fail to spot the unintended consequences of their actions. The only people telling them are UKIP, and they won’t listen to us. We’re not pro-EU, you see.

Likewise, when the commission arbitrarily changed the definition of the word “refugee”, Nigel Farage warned them in April that it would lead to migration on an unprecedented scale.

A few months later, they scratch their heads and wonder why no one told them that the refugee crisis would happen.

When we warned year in, year out, of the dangers of the euro, many in the Labour Party wanted us to join the euro anyway. Countries pressed on despite the economic madness of trying to have one size fits all policies for countries as disparate as Germany and Greece.

And so, today, the Greek economy is in chaos, shackled to a euro that it daren’t leave.

So, when the EU promises the end of roaming charges, it hasn’t thought through the consequences of its actions.

I’m not ashamed to be a dissenting voice.

I’m not ashamed to vote “no” to the end of roaming charges, because I don’t want consumers to have to pay more for using their mobile phones.

This article was originally published in the Journal on 29/10/2015

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