Free trade but not free speech

First published on BizCampBelfast 2010-08-19

The European Union of 27 member states, home to the Euro, soon to be the world’s most important currency and with free trade enshrined in its constitution continues to have one serious handicap to pan-European business: roaming charges!

How is it that as I travel across the United States I do not pay roaming charges from “sea to shining sea”, nor in any of the US territories from the Virgin Islands in the Atlantic to the Marianas in the Pacific. But if I live in Dundalk and go to the Sainsbury’s in Newry and my kids phone me to remind me to get Wine Gums those Wine Gums end up costing me 4 times as much due to roaming charges.

When I travel in mainland Europe for one week my monthly cell phone bill increases 500%. Recently one hour long conference call, to an 0800 number no less, cost me over £50.

The European Telecoms Commission have made a great start with the capping of roaming and data charges as of the 1st of July. But it is not enough. I hear pleas from business people all the time that is is becoming a significant source of cost – unless you are O2, T-Mobile, BT and the like in which case it is a significant source of revenue – and is exactly the kind of thing that the European Union was meant to stamp out to ensure free trade amongst the member states.

According to the EU, “In economic terms, the telecoms sector is one of Europe’s most important, with annual turnover of around €290 billion, and around 4% of the jobs in the Union.” They claim that “The price of telecoms services have fallen, on average, by around 30% in the past decade” but that has not been my experience.

For all of us I know we’d just like to eliminate roaming across the island of Ireland but I want you think bigger. This is a pan-European problem. I was reading Seth Godin’s blog today and he said a simple thing: “When using an axe to split logs, it’s awfully tempting to aim at the top of the log … the best approach is to focus on splitting the bottom of the log. Split the bottom and the top takes care of itself.” Maybe roaming should be eliminated globally.

We own the airwaves: why do we  continue to pay more to use them when we are not at home? We need to Empower Change in the European Union and eliminate this cost of doing business.

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