The famous white cliffs of Dover are as popular with tourists as they are with residents, but visitors to the Kent attraction have been getting a nasty surprise when using their smartphones – they have been unwittingly racking up roaming charges.
Mobile phone users in the picturesque seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret's bay, located at the foot of the white cliffs and just 18 miles from the French Coast have reported frequently receiving ‘Welcome to France’ messages and incurring extra costs thanks to a switch of network.
Smartphone users have been hit with costly roaming charges because of being redirected onto French networks such as SFR, Orange France, and Bouygues Telecom – a problem that residents say has been present in the villages for a number of years.
Local resident and landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant Nigel Wydymus spoke to The Guardian about the problem, saying: “It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying ‘Welcome to France', but since smartphones have come in it's more of a problem.
“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven't switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.”
French network coverage in the village is dependent on the weather and atmospheric conditions and is described as intermittent; however, at beach level the signal becomes more constant with the cliffs blocking out signal from UK operators completely.
The result of this means that making and receiving phone calls and texts is significantly higher than on domestic networks, sometimes up to four times as much. And with the advent of smartphones and the amount of data that such devices consume, the problem has come to a head.
It is thought that all UK carriers are affected by this problem and, although smartphone users are able to counter the data-roaming problem by turning it off, nothing can be done about the calls and texts being sent over French networks and the subsequent charges as a result. Naturally, residents – sick of the extra charges and inconvenience – have called upon UK carriers to resolve the problem, only to be
told that the issue is apparently out of their control.
While it seems the locals and tourists of the white cliffs are stuck with this problem for the foreseeable future, they can take some heart from the fact that roaming has become cheaper thanks to new rules introduced last year by the EU, which forced carriers to reduce the prices of making calls and downloading data abroad.