BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD – Here is your weekend comic relief.  (At my expense!)

You are visiting a foreign country.  You sit at the restaurant, peruse the menu and order. They also offer house wine, but there is no price for it on the menu.

After enjoying the meal you ask for the bill.  “Right away, sir” says the waiter, but “sir, I need to know the city of your residence so I can print the bill.”

“A city far away from here” you reply, “but why do you ask?”

“You see sir, if you are from here, a glass of wine is five coronas, but if you are not, then it is 1100 coronas.”

“1100 coronas? You must be joking! Is that for a barrel or a glass?”

“A glass, sir.”

“I did have a glass of house wine. You mean I have to pay 1100 coronas?”

“Yes sir, plus 12 coronas for your meal.”

Crazy story? Totally crazy and totally true. It just happened to me.  With one change. Change “house wine” to “cellphone charges.”  Indeed I was charged $1,100 for three weeks in Europe. That’s with minimal phone usage.

Your local and regional cellphone use is free or costs $15 – $50 per month depending on your subscription package.  But venture out of the region and the roaming rates are explosive.

The European Union has tried to get a handle on it with regulation because hoping from country to country in Europe is common. Here is a quote from a UK article:

“UK operators’ standard rates for data-roaming vary between £1 and £3.07 per megabyte for data roaming within Europe, and between £3 and £10 per megabyte for the rest of the world. If you use 500 MB on a two-week trip — this can easily be achieved when factoring in email, Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, a few photo uploads and some light browsing — then, in the worst case, it would cost you £5,000. The best case would still be £500.” [1]

I did write to T-Mobile to argue for a break.  I thought I had a case, as follows.

In January this year, I was in Greece as member of a team evaluating Greek Universities. Two weeks of data roaming cost me $165. Expensive, yes. Outrageous, no. I paid the bill, no questions asked. Then in May I changed my BlackBerry smartphone to a Google smartphone. And for three weeks of data roaming in Greece this July I got a bill for $1,100.

T-Mobile refused any adjustment, so I’m half a mortgage payment short this month.

The lessons here are:

(1) Congress needs to push for a national and worldwide agreement for reasonable mobile phone roaming rates, about 1/10 of what they are now, and,

(2) Until then, leave the smartphone phone when traveling abroad, or switch its data option off. This means that your $400 smartphone becomes a $40 cellphone.

All major banks in Hawaii have opened a “Panos roaming charge chip-in fund.”