A no-deal Brexit could mean a return to roaming charges for mobile phone services provided by companies in Gibraltar, the Gibraltar Government said yesterday in its latest guidance note.
Under EU rules, users are guaranteed surcharge-free roaming across the bloc.
But that could change once the UK and Gibraltar leave the EU, prompting the government to urge users to exercise caution until individual operators clarify any future post-Brexit arrangements.
What will happen depends on the shape that Brexit finally takes.
If Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial divorce deal is approved by the UK Parliament, then surcharge-free roaming would continue to be guaranteed during the two-year transition period.
Following that period, the arrangements for roaming including surcharges would depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the Future Economic Partnership.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, however, customers will have to carefully assess what arrangements their individual providers put in place.
In theory at least, operators could reach roaming agreements with companies in the EU, but these will be commercial deals no longer restricted by EU rules banning surcharges.
“In the event that we leave the EU without a deal, the costs that EU mobile operators would be able to charge our operators for providing roaming services would no longer be regulated after March 2019,” the government said.
“This would mean that surcharge-free roaming when you travel to the EU could no longer be guaranteed.”
“Leaving without a deal would not prevent Gibraltar mobile operators making and honouring commercial arrangements with mobile operators in the EU – and beyond the EU – to deliver the services their customers expect, including roaming arrangements.”
“The availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU would be a commercial question for the mobile operators.”
“As a consequence, surcharge-free mobile roaming in the EU may not continue to be standard across every mobile phone package from that point.”
“Roaming may also be offered with different terms and conditions.”
“This might affect the amount of calls that you can make, texts you can send and data you can consume, including applying limits that are less than the amount available in your bundle when you are in Gibraltar.”
“However, we should be clear that surcharge-free roaming for Gibraltar customers may continue across the EU as now, based on operators’ commercial arrangements.”
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government advises consumers to:
• check the roaming policies of your mobile operator before you go abroad
• consider what your operator is saying about surcharge-free roaming post-EU exit
• check your operator’s terms and conditions in detail – particularly if you are a heavy user of mobile services in the EU
• be aware of your rights to change mobile operator (“switching”)
• know how to turn off your mobile data roaming on your mobile device if you’re worried about being charged for data usage in the EU
• ensure you understand the alternatives to using mobile networks when abroad. Wi-Fi is widely available, which would allow you to make calls, send texts and use data for free or with little charge
• understand which services might be expensive to use and which are likely to be cheap. For example, streaming live television or sending large video clips (MMS) could be expensive as they use large amounts of data
At present, EU rules mean consumers can use mobile devices to make calls, send texts and use mobile data services for no more than they would be charged when in Gibraltar.
In addition, the EU Roaming regulation requires mobile operators to apply a default financial limit for mobile data usage of €50.
Operators are also required to send an alert once your device reaches 80% and then 100% of the agreed data roaming limit.
These requirements apply regardless of where consumers are in the world, not only within the EU.
Surcharge-free roaming in the EU, known as Roam Like at Home, is underpinned by regulations that also detail what mobile operators can charge each other for providing roaming services.
The regulation extends to the wider European Economic Area (EEA), which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Outside the EU, however, those protections would no longer apply automatically.