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ATPM 15.12
December 2009


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by Mark Tennent,

Regional Rip-offs

It was a dark and stormy afternoon in the Languedoc’s Black Mountain last week, as we made our way further up the narrow and twisting road. At each hairpin bend, the drop on my side of the car grew more precipitous, with only a few of the local marble off-cuts to stop us going over the edge. As we drove higher, it got darker, and rain clouds swirled around the Peugeot. We had no choice but to follow the signs to the peak because there was nowhere to turn around.

The Michelin map indicated two side roads, but they must have been the size of goat tracks because we couldn’t find them. My Garmin was back in England, and our driver hadn’t put her TomTom in the car. In any case, the top-of-the-range TomTom kept telling us we were still in a Parisian suburb rather than up a mountain north of Carcassonne. If only my iPhone had one of the new sat-nav packages installed, or I could have used Google Maps to navigate a route back down.

Even in the wilds of southwest rural France, you get a better signal than we receive at home in England’s south coast conurbation. Data roaming in France is incredibly expensive, although the reason why is completely beyond any rational explanation. Current iPhone contracts in the UK are only available from France Telecom’s Orange and O2, owned by Spain’s Telefonica.

We could see the Pyrenees and Spain in the distance, and France Telecom has a base in Carcassonne, less than 25 miles away and 4,000 feet below. Both charge 35 pounds a month for more telephone calls and texts than I’ll use in a lifetime, plus free data downloads in the UK. If I stand next to their transmitters in France or Spain and want to check my e-mail or a Web page, I’ll have to sell my soul to pay off the charges. It is so expensive they warn customers in large and very unfriendly lettering in case they accidentally leave data roaming switched on.

This seems completely ridiculous in a united Europe. The same companies who sell the contracts to use their cellphone network in the UK will charge you an arm and a leg to use their network 50 miles away across the English Channel.

Or am I missing the point? No, I don’t think so. Even if we became a Euro economy as many think we ought to have done years ago, we will still be controlled by pan-European companies charging regional rip-offs. Unless the European rip-off minister decides to do something about it.

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