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Vodafone's decision to zap roaming fees in certain countries could spur its competitors into doing the same.
If you’re a Vodafone customer, good news: You’ll no longer have to pay roaming charges in dozens of countries around the globe, though centering on Europe. On Wednesday, the carrier announced that it was doing away with roaming fees in 40 countries.
“Our customers make it clear to us that they wanted the freedom to use their phones worry-free while abroad and we have listened,” Vodafone U.K. commercial director Glafkos Persianis said last year.
The full list of newly fee-free countries includes Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, the French West Indies, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
Those are in addition to Vodafone’s 60 “roam-further” locations, which let customers take advantage of domestic data, call, and text rates for a 5-pound fee.
The news follows the introduction of new Vodafone plans: Essentials, Red Extra, and Red Entertainment. Essentials starts at 9.50 British pounds per month (on a 12-month contract) for 250 minutes, unlimited texts, and 250MB of data. Red Extra bumps that up to unlimited minutes, texts, and 2GB of data for 18 pounds, or 4GB of data for 22 pounds per month. And the top-of-the-line Red Unlimited comes with 8GB of data for 27 pounds per month, 20GB for 35 pounds per month, or 40GB for 40 pounds per month.
The move is conspicuously timed to coincide with the European Union’s rollback of roaming charges. In roughly two months, mobile carriers will be legally obligated to charge the same phone, text, and data rates across the continent. In addition, they’ll be bound to net neutrality rules that will require them to treat all internet traffic equally and ensure a minimum internet quality for “special services” — meaning those that require higher bandwidth — provided it doesn’t impact normal internet use for others.
The new rules aren’t perfect. A fair use policy would prohibit customers from registering and paying for a phone in a country where they don’t live, then using it at home to save money. EU carriers reserve the right to “impose minimal surcharges,” if it can be proved that the new system threatens to raise prices on domestic contracts and services. And networks can restrict or block internet traffic to protect against cyber-attacks or manage speed “for commercial reasons.”
But it’s the first step toward cheaper roaming across the EU. The cost caps are 3.2 euro cents per minute for calls, 1 euro cent for SMS, and 7.7 euros per gigabyte of data. They’ll gradually be reduced over the coming years, eventually reaching 2.5 euros per gigabyte at the beginning of 2022.