The EU's interest in mobile tariffs for roaming charges is pushing the industry along faster than competition. Telewest may have acknowledged that it's not that much more expensive to call somewhere 5,000 miles of fibre away than it is to call 500 miles of fibre away, but most phone operators would rather give you a confusing basket of text minutes and differential pricing than a flat rate. Picking a mobile phone tariff is so confusing researchers use it as a test when they want to observe the brain dealing with confusing decisions (Source: Radio 4, All in the Mind, week of 3rd July 2006). And roaming charges are Prisoner's Dilemma in action; why should you care if travellers from my network get cheaper prices in your country when what you care about is looking good for your own customers? Enter the EU and some heavy-handed moves, and suddenly the dirty little secret of roaming charges (where 1MB of data can cost eight to 20 times more than at home) is getting publicity. Operators are at the mercy of what other operators charge them for roaming; you're at the mercy of the strongest signal if your phone isn't set up to prioritise partner networks when you travel. You can always pick the partner network by hand, as long as you know who it is, know how to do it and care enough to bother. Knowing what difference it makes to your bill is an incentive, and even if the EU doesn't force prices down, making people aware in advance that they need to think about the network they roam to and change it is necessary should save people some money. In the long run, if everyone roams to the cheaper networks, there's an incentive to the pricey operators to reduce their roaming charges. Despite what operators claim about responding to the market, this doesn't happen without the kind of kick in the pants the EU is delivering and the publicity it brings.
So if you're planning to travel and you think it's good to talk, http://www.roaming.gsmeurope.org/ shows prices by individual operator for a two-minute peak-time call to a fixed line in your home country, prices for receiving a two minute peak-time call from home (a handy reminder to turn the phone off if you don't fancy the extra charge) and the cost of sending and receiving text messages when travelling within Europe. No data charges yet, but that should be the next argument.