New European legislation underway
The question probably most asked following a holiday abroad, is how much more you have to pay for mobile usage. Many people are shocked when they see the size of their invoice, unaware of how expensive data traffic is. Much effort has been made in recent years to improve the situation. But to really make a difference, we need measures at European level.
Data communication main cause of difficulties
To protect consumers from receiving huge invoices at the end of their holiday, a warning system has been developed by the operators. Customers are sent a text message alerting them whenever their mobile expenses incurred abroad are too high. If the sum subsequently continues to rise, the operator may block the service.
Concern in recent years has therefore shifted to the cost of data traffic abroad. Just updating your status on Facebook or looking at a news site to see the latest headlines can soon send the costs soaring. So besides regulation, awareness is also required. It is increasingly possible to use WiFi networks, also abroad. This means that you can surf the net or read your e-mails at no charge. But there is a difficulty here: it is not always clear to the consumer whether he is connected via WiFi or 3G.
Euro tariffs for calling and texting
The first legislation on roaming was adopted in 2007 by the European Parliament and related to mobile telephone calls. In June 2009 this was extended to texting and data tariffs for roaming between operators. This regulation meant that maximum tariffs were in force, also known as the Euro tariff system. These were reduced year on year. From 1 July 2011, a mobile call within the EU costs a maximum of € 0.35 per minute, and to receive a call costs a maximum of € 0.11 (excl. VAT). Sending a text message costs € 0.11 and receiving a text message is free.
The end of roaming in 2015?
But the present legislation runs out on 30 June 2012 and the European Commission, through Euro commissioner Neelie Kroes, has already indicated that it wants to see the roaming tariffs disappear by 2015. Making a call abroad will then only cost the same as at home, and a domestic ‘minute’ can also be used abroad.
Euro tariffs for data traffic
Now that new regulation is required from the summer, there is also talk of maximum tariffs for data roaming. There are various scenarios that will have to follow a long procedure before approval can be granted. In the meantime both new and existing telecom operators have expressed their concern about the plans of the European Union to extend the maximum tariffs to data traffic.
Decoupling as possible interim solution
Euro commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Kroes, proposed an important change to the European market for mobile roaming services, namely decoupling. This gives consumers the opportunity to switch operators when abroad. That will enable them to have the best deal in any country in the European Union without having to change SIM cards. However, this involves structural changes at high cost to all the operators, with a market-distorting effect as a result, as it is mainly the big transnational companies who will benefit from this.
Or leave it to market forces?
KPN/BASE is certainly not opposed to a system of decoupling, but wishes to add another possibility that would also reduce the roaming tariffs. The idea is for the voluntary meeting of the Digital Target Agenda, with operators offering prices that lie very close to the domestic tariffs. The concept of ‘very close to’ will then have to be defined by BEREC. For those who offer these tariffs, there will be no obligation to implement the complex decoupling measures, since the customers will already be able to enjoy low roaming tariffs from July 2014. The European Telecom Council, in which the responsible ministers from European member states take seats, also advocates a solution that requires as little structural change as possible from the operators.
Clarity in the summer of 2012
A proposal concerning the future of European data traffic and roaming in general will be put before the European Parliament at the beginning of 2012 so that a decision can be taken in the plenary meeting in April. It will then only be a few months until the implementation can be smoothly undertaken from 1 July 2012.