Towards the disappearance of roaming services rates

Written on 27 May 2016

On June 15 2017 European citizens will be able to use roaming services within the European Union as if they were in their country of residence, as long as they comply with a number of requirements closely related to the fair and reasonable use of said services.

Mobile phone operators offer roaming services to ensure that their customers can make and receive calls and SMS, as well as use data services, while temporarily traveling outside their country of residence. The lack of a single telecommunications market in the European Union has increased the need for domestic operators to buy wholesale roaming services from operators in Member States being visited by their customers.

These services have been regulated in the European Union through different rules that have set out structural measures focused on protecting the interests of customers who face high prices for using roaming services. It also aims to encourage competition between the different operators and agents involved in the telecommunications market.

Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, of 25 November, introduces important new features, such as governing the elimination of roaming services rates as from 15 June 2017, resulting in what has been named “roam like at home”.

However, the elimination of roaming rates is not unrestricted or unlimited. On the contrary, it is subject to fulfilling certain requirements related to the service’s fair use, which will be defined through ad hoc policies. The aim of these policies is none other than setting out the terms and limits for using roaming services by European citizens, with the aim of avoiding anomalous or irregular uses that may cause a perverse misrepresentation in the telecommunications market, as well as of defining the exceptional circumstances in which roaming providers may add a surcharge to retailer roaming rates in order to recover the costs for providing said services.

That said, it seems reasonable that from 15 June 2017 surcharges are applied for using roaming services once the limits established in the fair use policies have been exceeded or the rates for roaming services are greater than the agreed retail rates, in the event that domestic rates without a surcharge exceed the maximum roaming rates.

The European Commission has until 15 December 2016 to decide what parameters it will use to prepare the fair use policies for roaming services and, in the meantime, solve other issues, such as the criteria on which to base fair uses. The National Commission of Markets and Competition considers that “fair use” must include the needs of users who regularly travel to other Member States, but it should not protect those considered great roaming consumers. To find the right balance between different type of users and the different rates that exist in the market, it has been suggested that a time limit and a limit based on traffic volume should be established throughout the European Union. These limits would be controlled by operators and supervised by the regulators. In line with the transparency measures implemented by European regulations, there is also the need to inform customers every month of the number of days on which they have used roaming services.

Also, the European Commission will have to set out measures to eliminate the surcharges for roaming or to modify wholesale prices, without hindering the recovery of wholesale costs for providing said services.

From 30 April 2016, and until consumers of mobile services stop paying the same roaming rates that they pay in their country of residence, their invoices will include surcharges in domestic retail rates, although these may not exceed the rates regulated in the wholesale market or the agreed maximum retail rates.

In summary, it is too early to analyse if these measures will be enough, because they have yet to be applied, however they do prove that the European Union is willing to promote a single telecommunications market in which the interests of operators and consumers are balanced out.