September 20, 2016
On the 5th of September the European Commission presented a draft for an implementing act defining the specific parameters of fair use policy that will prevent abusive usage of roaming data, according to the rules that provide for the end of roaming charges in June 2017.
The European Commission based its proposal on the results of a public consultation. The proposal, subject to consult with BEREC and Member States, covers the following key areas:
Customers must be able to roam at domestic prices, and therefore take advantage of the RLAH agreement for a total of 90 days throughout the year (with a maximum of 30 consecutive days). The policy would allow phone users no more than 90 days of free roaming per year. Those caps were designed to stop permanent roaming which would allow a person to purchase a SIM card in a country where prices are cheaper and use it full-time in their home market.
Frontier workers who log on at home every day cannot be considered to be engaged in anomalous, permanent roaming: meaning that the 90-day/30-day rules should not apply to those customers who connect to a foreign network as well as their home network within one day. This protects subscribers who travel to another country on a daily basis for work, or who live near a border.
For open mobile phone bundles (i.e. those which have unlimited or very high volumes) roaming customers should be able to consume at domestic prices at least the average volume consumed on their bundle: that means that customers will be allowed to use the average volume of service (either minutes, texts, or data) consumed by all customers on that same tariff without incurring roaming charges. With this, the Commission hopes to prevent roaming providers picking up the tab for very heavy data users.
Under the proposed rules, customers will be entitled to 90 days of free roaming per year but they will be obliged to connect to their roaming provider’s home network at least once every 30 days. Also these measures aim to stop permanent roaming, where people buy a SIM card in a country where prices are cheaper and then use it full-time in their home market.
Beyond fair use policy, a mobile operator may apply a surcharge that cannot exceed the corresponding wholesale roaming cap. The Commission has proposed 4 cents/min, 1 cent/SMS, 0,85 cents/MB. The proposal has to be adopted by the Parliament and Member States in the current wholesale roaming review.
EU Commissioner for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip described the end of roaming fees as “one of the best achievements of the European Union in the last few years”. As for the 90-day limit, he stated that it was needed to “strike the right balance” between consumers and companies to ensure continued investment.
Only a few days after the draft was presented we witnessed a real U-turn made by the European Commission on limit to roaming charges. In fact, the European Commission was accused of bowing to the telecoms companies and the European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker ordered officials to draw up new plans for the EU’s landmark free mobile phone roaming policy after it ran into fierce criticism. Telecoms companies were not happy about this change of mind either: the 90 day limit was already way higher than what they had wanted.
On the 14th of September the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented his vision of a post-Brexit EU during his yearly State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. President Juncker’s speech in the European Parliament was accompanied by the adoption of concrete initiatives by the European Commission on investment, the Digital Single Market, Capital Markets Union and security, putting words immediately into action.
In particular, as far as the abolition of roaming charges is concerned, Mr. Juncker said that next week the European Commission would publish a revised proposal that will lay down detailed rules for telecommunications operators on cross-border use of mobile phones. The limit of 90 days should be reviewed in favour of consumers.
Regardless of the duration of that limit, once the limitation is up and running, customers will need to keep an eye on the amount of days they will be roaming abroad. In fact, once they exceed the cap that will be established, the benefit of “roam like at home” will cease and they will have to pay a roaming surcharge, just like they used to during the previous traditional international roaming regime. Monitoring is needed not only to be aware of how many days of “free roaming” there are left, but also to prevent the risk of bill shock.
As I see it, the need to monitor the traffic presents a significant opportunity for MNOs to offer a higher level of transparency to their subscribers. The roaming experience has taught us that one of the main reasons why customers are reluctant to use their mobile phones - especially for data traffic - when they travel abroad is the fear of bill shock. Rather than risking to receive steep bills without realising how they made such an amount of roaming traffic while on holidays, they often prefer to switch off their mobile phone and either to use the Wi-Fi facilities or to buy a local SIM card. The phenomenon of “silent roamers” originates from those scenarios.
For this reason, even if the Regulation will not make it mandatory, the MNOs should in my opinion take this opportunity to offer their customers user-friendly tools that will provide the subscribers real-time information about their roaming traffic. And not only the number of days they roam, but also the consecutive days they use their phone abroad, considering that this is a parameter used by the Regulation to avoid permanent roaming.
The investment that MNOs would make to set up such monitoring tool would represent a transparent and forward-looking approach that would likely result in great competitive advantage.