In May last year, after a long and acrimonious fight, the European Commission forced mobile operators to cut up to 70 percent off voice-roaming charges within the EU.
Squealing like piglets, the operators predicted the direst of effects — price rises across the board, slashed profits, consumer dissatisfaction. The European Commission responded with a warning that data- and text-roaming rates were next.
Eight months later, we have two miracles. Firstly, none of the bad effects has come to pass. Secondly, O2 has decided to cut its intra-Europe data-roaming charges by roughly the same amount as the European Commission introduced for voice last year. We don't know whether that tinkling noise coming from behind closed doors in Brussels is a sabre rattling or a penny dropping. We don't care.
Whatever the reason, the result is extremely welcome. Criminally high data-roaming rates are freezing the mobile-applications market, and are doubly unforgivable as the first generation of truly usable, affordable, mobile internet devices is on its way. There's still a long way to go before mobile-data prices at home and abroad are truly fair, but for this large step, O2, we thank you.
There is a secondary effect, which is almost as welcome. The other operators — with the noble exception of 3, which has led the way to sanity with the survival instinct of the underdog — have been wrong-footed, and come out with the most insufferable hogwash as a result.
Stumble forward, Vodafone, which excuses itself by claiming consumers get confused by per-megabyte charges. This may explain why it hides such charges in its £95-per-month "flat rate" tariff behind a 200MB "fair usage" limit. Take a pratfall, T-Mobile, for suggesting that customers may wish to avail themselves of the "fairly cost-effective" network of Wi-Fi hotspots instead.
Such silliness helps to illustrate that there is no justification for roaming charges whatsoever. They are a hangover from the days of gutta-percha cables and polite young ladies at switchboards. Having dispensed with both wiring and politeness, wireless operators can best serve their customers by embracing their side of the new technology bargain.
A fair service at a fair price is more important than any amount of marketing nonsense — and worth far more than the indignity of piglethood.