Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 28/3/2006If you were somewhere in North London this afternoon, you may have heard a loud cry, the sound of a window breaking and shortly afterwards the distinctive crunch of a wireless hitting tarmac. As usual when working from home, I had the radio on — it's normally tuned to Radio 4, but between 1200 and 1300 (You And Yours) and 1403 to 1415 (The Bucolic Torture Of Mind And Soul That Is The Archers) I flick over to Radio 5.

Tuesday 28/3/2006

If you were somewhere in North London this afternoon, you may have heard a loud cry, the sound of a window breaking and shortly afterwards the distinctive crunch of a wireless hitting tarmac. As usual when working from home, I had the radio on — it's normally tuned to Radio 4, but between 1200 and 1300 (You And Yours) and 1403 to 1415 (The Bucolic Torture Of Mind And Soul That Is The Archers) I flick over to Radio 5. It was in one of these windows of opportunity that I heard a spokesperson from the GSM Association trying to justify its strong opposition to the European Union's proposal to eviscerate roaming charges.

The red mist obscures my memory of his exact words, but he was doing better than the presenter. She'd obviously been talking to someone who knew the score because she asked the right questions, but he deflected them easily and she didn't follow any of them up. His arguments were that it did cost more to route calls internationally (which it does — just not anywhere near a detectable amount and mostly because the billing systems cost a fortune to run since they're so unutterably Heath Robinson) and anyway they'd all been cutting their prices lately so the EU could go and shove its head in a pig.

One particularly good argument was that because the market was changing so rapidly, the EU should undertake a careful analysis of the situation — at the end of which, one presumes, exactly the same argument can be made again ad infinitum.

But I don't think the GSMA's got a hope in hell. Brits made more than seventy million trips abroad last year. We own somewhere in the region of seventy million phones. It will have occurred to the least insightful of these itinerants that there is something very wrong when half an hour of phoning home from the destination costs more than the ticket to get there and back. "But there are lots of operators to choose from" smarmed the GSMA man on the radio when this point was brought up — yes there are. And which one offers a roaming service that costs less than fifty times the actual price of the call to the operators? That's right, none of them. We know this. We all know this. We pay the price — and there's no better way to get someone's attention.

"Unforeseen consequences" will follow, warns the GSMA, if the EU goes ahead and regulates roaming. No, sir, those consequences are not unforeseen. The mobile phone companies will get less money and will have to work out ways to extract cash from the punters that does not involve operating a global cartel. Deal with it.

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