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Brexit Is Likely to Hit Brits Where It Hurts: Their Cellphone Bills

October 31, 2018, 12:45 PM UTC

One of the great victories of the European Union was its abolition last year of mobile roaming fees for people traveling within the bloc. After all, when you have a single market and free movement, it makes no sense to penalize people for traveling from place-to-place with a cellphone.

The U.K., however, is about to leave the EU and its single market —and that, the British government confirmed Tuesday—probably means Brits are going to have to dip into their pockets whenever they use their cell in the EU.

Mobile operators in the U.K. have said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming fees, however, that doesn’t mean the charges won’t come back. Indeed, if EU operators decide that U.K. telecoms firms should pay higher wholesale fees, then the extra costs are likely to be passed onto British customers who surf the Web or make calls during their summer holidays and business trips to the continent.

“Outside the EU, the roaming regulations—which have effectively abolished voice, SMS and data roaming charges for U.K. citizens when traveling within the EU—will cease to apply, meaning that EU operators will be free to increase the wholesale roaming charges they charge U.K. operators, and U.K. operators will be free to start to charge U.K. consumers for using roaming services,” the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee said in a report.

“As the Government does not seek participation in the Digital Single Market as part of the future economic partnership, this situation will arise in the event of both a negotiated and a non-negotiated exit.”

The report confirmed that, in the digital realm, other consequences of Brexit will include the inability of Brits to register or hold onto .eu domain names, an end to the rule that allows people from the U.K. to view their digital content while abroad in the EU, and the newfound ability of e-commerce operators in the EU to block people from the U.K.

The committee also pointed out that British companies may find themselves unable to easily handle the personal data of customers and employees based in the EU. Thanks to Brexit, the U.K. will become a “third country” that needs a so-called ‘adequacy decision’ from the European Commission to allow free transfer of personal data between the regions without the need for companies to make costly and complex legal arrangements.

“It is not automatic that the Commission would grant an adequacy decision and some further adaptation of domestic law may be necessary, particularly in relation to bulk collection of data for state surveillance,” the report read. “In the absence of an adequacy decision, UK cooperation in a wide range of EU information systems and databases would not be possible, and UK-based businesses would have to pursue other more bureaucratic and expensive alternatives provided for in the General Data Protection Regulation.”