Operators criticised over data cut-off cop-out

Consumer groups have criticised the way mobile phone operators have implemented new EU rules governing roaming data charges.

Operators criticised over data cut-off cop-out

In an effort to reduce “bill shock”, where customers face a huge bill for roaming while overseas, the EU has imposed a €50/month cap on data charges.

As of 1 July, all mobile operators have to apply the cut-off limit for customers travelling in the European Union and this will happen automatically, unless you opt out.

However, the mobile phone companies could have gone much further and applied the limit to all countries, thus saving post-travel stress in areas where roaming charges are even higher than they are in Europe.

“Unfortunately there’s no incentive for companies to put caps in place outside Europe, as there’s no enforcement body,” said a spokesperson for Consumer Focus.

Only O2 has said it will apply its caps and cut-offs globally. “We have gone beyond the EU regulations to give our customers protection from ‘bill shock’ wherever in the world they travel,” the company said in a statement.

Vodafone, on the other hand, will implement the changes only in Europe, but does include the whole of Europe in its roaming policy.

T-mobile, Orange and Virgin, however, are only applying the legislation where they are obligated to – within the EU member countries.

Anyone travelling outside these areas could be subject high bills if there were not aware of the data charges applied.

According to Consumer Focus research, anyone travelling to South Africa for example, could face huge bills on their return if they performed fairly basic online activities. Although the organisation would like to see prices dropped, better notification would be a step in the right direction, it said.

“Customers could face particularly big fees for uploading photos or videos to social networking sites,” the consumer watchdog said. “Costs to use mobile internet of £1.25 to £8/MB could leave customers paying, for example, up to £80 just to upload ten photos to Facebook.

Orange said it planned to bring in an international policy “within six months” but couldn’t explain why they couldn’t have done so when setting up the system for within the EU.

Virgin, on the other hand, said that a full list of prices for calls, texts and data were sent to travellers on arrival, and that many customers reporting bill shock were merely trying to avoid payment.

“This has been going on for years, but we still see customers feigning ignorance over big bills,” a spokesperson said. “Often they are just trying it on.”

Ofcom said it too would like to see the roaming cut-off points in place globally. “We’d like to see the cap extended internationally as for consumers it has to be a good thing,” a spokesperson said.

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