Readers vent fury at data-roaming charges

The fees levied by UK operators for data use abroad are 'pathological price gouging', readers have told ZDNet UK, with many saying they avoid turning on the mobile internet while travelling
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

People surveyed about data-roaming charges have described the fees as "extortionate", "robbery" and "pathological price gouging".

These are just three of hundreds of comments written in response to a ZDNet UK survey, which was carried out in March. The survey results were published on Tuesday, to coincide with the launch of ZDNet UK's Campaign for Fair Data Roaming.

Our investigations have shown that people using mobile data on their smartphones, tablets and laptops while travelling are being charged mark-ups of many thousands of percent — the actual costs of data roaming are around 1-3p per megabyte, but retail prices go as high as £10 per megabyte.

"Data-roaming prices at the moment seem extortionate," a typical comment read. "Should operators offer something reasonable, it would be very interesting to me as it would make life a lot simpler when travelling."

Avoiding high prices

Some of the feedback outlined the workarounds people took to try to avoid paying the charges, though this required extra effort to find providers.

It's a sting, seeing who'll just pay up for not being aware of the horrible prices. It's bad for business. Everyone loses.
– Survey respondent

"I never use it for personal purposes because of the incredible cost," one of the first people to fill in the survey wrote. "I'll either use Wi-Fi hotspots (eg, free Wi-Fi in McDonald's) or buy a cheap local SIM and primarily use data on it."

Another reader echoed this sentiment, writing: "I tend to buy a SIM from a local provider overseas. Obviously my usual carrier is missing out because of its high prices."

The frustration shown by commenters was often directed at the readers' mobile service provider at home, with some questioning the lack of co-ordination shown by operators with a presence overseas.

"I always use a local pay-as you go SIM card in whatever country I am in," a reader wrote. "It is often a small fraction of what I would have to pay my own network. Ironically, it is often the local version of the same provider that I use back in England. What does that say about customer service? They are not loyal to me, the customer, why should I be loyal to them?"

Bill shock

Some of the comments described the shock of a very high monthly bill. One person said that, while they had not been hit by roaming charges, a friend "very quickly ran up a phone bill of nearly $2,000 (£1,246), the main component being 77MB of data downloaded in Germany".

Data-roaming charges travel

The data-roaming prices cause businesses to be "scared to use the technologies at hand when travelling, which is very, very sad for development", according to a commenter.

"The going price was $20,000 a gig (through [operator] 3)," the respondent added. "Comparing that to my home plan, were I to use it all at that price I would be up for $1,000,000 — totally unacceptable. If nothing else, they should at least apply a bulk discount."

'Without valid reason'

Many people said they realised how baseless data-roaming fees are. "As there is no competition on these charges, they can charge ridiculous charges and they do so," one wrote. "Even simple AGPS usage for positioning can result in relatively expensive bills compared with the usage. The charges are no comparison to the cost they have."

"Horribly expensive, and without valid reason," another respondent commented. "It's purely a sting, seeing who'll just pay up for not being aware of the horrible prices. The prices aren't in any way matched/similar to other pricing (locally), and people don't realise it. They trust their provider, that 'it can't be much more', and they're shafted over it. It's bad for business because everyone loses."

Some commentators even suggested the operators were not billing correctly for data roaming.

"With O2, in order to avoid being stung by data-roaming charges, I went online and bought a pre-paid bolt-on of 20MB or so for emergency map usage on my iPhone," one reader wrote. "I went to Texas for a week and used the data sparingly, as back at the hotel and in the office there was Wi-Fi. When I returned to the UK and got my bill, I was charged a fortune for data."

"It turns out the bolt-on I'd bought was applied to my account for the next billing cycle and so while I was actually roaming, I was paying top dollar. And of course, when I was back in Blighty, I had a block of pre-paid data that was useless," the reader added.

Business impact

Others suggested business users were suffering as a result of high data-roaming charges. "As a CIO, we see so much overcharging on our phones," one respondent wrote. "Our users are scared to use the technologies at hand when travelling, which is very, very sad for development."

"The present charges are inhibiting business and the development of the mobile web," another reader wrote.

The difficulty of trying to predict data usage based on megabytes was another recurring theme. "Very expensive, especially as you do not know how large files are before you download them on email attachments," one commentator wrote, while another similarly noted the charges are "extortionate and unpredictable".

More comments on the topic are constantly being added to ZDNet UK's petition, which asks people to sign up to call on operators to drastically cut their data-roaming charges.

Sign the petition for fair data roaming.

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