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Brexit may lead to return of roaming charges

The move may also effect mobile phone signal along the Irish border

There are fears Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to withdraw from the European Union (EU) digital single market may lead to the return of roaming charges for people from Northern Ireland when travelling abroad.

The move could also affect mobile phone signals along the Irish border.

In 2015 EU countries reached an agreement to bring roaming charges to an end throughout all member states.

This meant people from Northern Ireland travelling abroad to EU member countries would no longer run up large mobile phone bills for using data, making calls and sending texts.

People from Northern Ireland were also affected by the charges when travelling to the Irish Republic.

The agreement abolishing the roaming charges came into effect in June 2017.

Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed her intention to leave the EU digital single market in a speech last week.

"On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU," she said.

"This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments."

After the announcement SDLP Economy Spokesperson Daniel McCrossan MLA said it was clear that the British Government has no idea of the real depth of the border challenge and how many areas of cooperation Brexit threatens to sever.

“As a result of our combined membership of the European Union, people in the North and the South no longer pay mobile roaming charges on calls, texts or data. And even before that, European Union directives saw a cap on the costs for roaming charges," the West Tyrone MLA said.

“Theresa May’s order that Britain should leave the digital single market may mean that she has to pay more on a trip to the south of France but it will have a significant impact on people living in border communities or those who cross the border for work here."

Mr McCrossan said the new plans would have repercussions for people across Northern Ireland.

“People living in border communities are aware of how often their phone switches to a southern network, depending on which phone mast they’re closest to. They have genuine cause for alarm at the prospect of a return to roaming charges, especially those in a non-EU state," he said.

“A white van man living in Strabane could soon face a call from Dublin costing the same as one from Dubai –around 30 times the cost before roaming charges were abolished. And the difference in mobile data could be even more unsettling. Surfing the internet on your phone in Navan could return to the same cost as in New York – over 100 times more expensive than before charges were scrapped.

“The British Government needs to get real about dealing with the Irish border. The EU has proposed workable solutions based on agreement from the last phase of talks. If Theresa May wants to diverge from her word, then her government must come forward with proposals of its own. The vacuum of leadership can’t continue.”

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