Roaming Regulation in the EU: What is the Roaming Regulation in Europe all about?
While the first discussions and market assessments started in 2000, the European Commission’s first rules to address overcharging in roaming prices came in 2007 when the I Roaming Regulation (n. 717/2007) was approved.
The I Roaming Regulation was proposed in 2006 by the European Commission following concerns expressed by National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) through the European Regulators Group (ERG).
The I (first) Roaming Regulation came into effect on 29 June 2007, and imposed retail and wholesale price caps as well as transparency measures. It was then amended in 2009, when the II Roaming Regulation was approved (n. 544/2009) and then it was amended again in 2012 following thorough review, with a commitment to keep
arrangements in place until 30 June 2022: III Roaming Regulation (n. 531/2012).
I Roaming Regulation (n. 717/2007): Eurotariff
Thanks to the I Roaming Regulation, the “Eurotariff” capped maximum prices for phone calls made and received while abroad both at a retail and at a wholesale level. These maximum prices are valid for all consumers, unless they expressely opt for special packages offered by operators. These rules have since been periodically reviewed and reformed, with further reductions in price caps through specific glide paths as well as the provision of automatic protections against data roaming bill shocks.
Thanks to the retail and wholesale price cap on roaming calls placed by this Regulation, roaming charges turned out to be reduced up to 70%. However, the 2007 Regulation also placed a number of transparency measures with clear and customized information on the retail price of international roaming, helping to ensure that consumers were well informed in relation to roaming in the EU.
II Roaming Regulation (n. 544/2009): Data and Transparency
The 2009 amendments to the Roaming Regulation included:
- other reductions to the wholesale and retail “Eurotariff” (voice calls),
- the introduction of a wholesale and retail Euro SMS price cap,
- a wholesale data price cap, and
- new measures related to pricing transparency were introduced
- anti-Bill-Shock cut-off mechanism, (threshold of €50, unless a different limit is chosen by the customer)
- a per-second billing (after the first 30 seconds for outgoing roaming calls and from the first second for incoming calls).
III Roaming Regulation (n. 531/2012): Transparency and competition
- the price caps for voice, SMS and data were further reduced, and must remain in place
until 30 June 2017.
- Data Usage Alert anti billshock: The usage cap must be € 50 (unless the consumer chooses a higher threshold). The customer must be advised when he hits 80% of the data usage cap, and again at 100 % of the data usage cap.
- Transparency SMS: the MNO has to send customers that roam in EU a specific SMS explaining the costs of calls, SMS and data as well as how to find out more information and how to reach the European emergency number 112.
The III Roaming Regulation introduced some “Structural Measures” effective from the 1st July 2014 aimed at increasing and fostering the competition.
Thanks to those structural measures, as of the 1st July 2014:
- Customers were given the option to sign up with an Alternative Roaming Provider (ARP), which may be different from their domestic mobile provider, for a separate mobile contract for roaming whilst keeping the same phone number (“single IMSI” plan);
- MVNOs and resellers can access other EU or EEA mobile network operators’ networks at regulated wholesale prices in order to provide roaming services (together with national services) to their customers.
- Customers can access also regulated data roaming services (Local Break-Out – LBO) provided directly on a visited network by an alternative roaming provider.
The Roaming Regulations are part of the EU’s regulatory framework for electronic communications, a series of rules which apply across the EU Member States. It aims at encouraging competition, improving the functioning of the market and guaranteeing basic user rights.
According to the European Commission view,
“the overall goal is for European consumers to be able to benefit from increased choice thanks to low prices, high quality and innovative services”.
EU law has helped the prices of telecoms’ services fall by around 30% in the past decade.
The framework is made of a package of 5 Directives and 2 Regulations:
- The Framework Directive is based on the Framework Directive 2002/21/EC and the Better Regulation Directive 2009/140/EC
- The Access Directive is based on the Access Directive 2002/19/EC and the Better Regulation Directive 2009/140/EC
- The Authorisation Directive is based on the Authorisation Directive 2002/20/EC and the Better Regulation Directive 2009/140/EC
- The Universal Service Directive is based on the Universal Service Directive 2002/22/EC and the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2009/136/EC
- The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications is based on the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications 2002/58/EC, the Amending Directive 2006/24/EC and the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2009/136/EC
- The Regulation on Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC)
- The Regulation on roaming on public mobile communications networks
Roam Like at Home (RLAH):
One of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy is the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) . As far as the international roaming is concerned, the European Commission wants to find durable solutions for voice and data roaming and achieve the DAE objective: to abolish any difference between roaming and national telecoms tariffs.
This would result in the so called “Roam Like At Home” (RLAH) charging fees.
“Roam Like At Home” means the end of roaming charges, when operators will be obliged to charge roaming calls, sms and data traffic as if it was domestic traffic. In the light of the above, last April the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming fees by 2016.
To meet this goal, the Legislative Resolution of the European Parliament dated April 3rd, 2014 (approved by 534 votes) on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council providing for measures related to the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent (amending Directives 2002/20/EC, 2002/21/EC, 2002/22/EC, and Regulations (EC) No 1211/2009 and (EU) No 531/2012) expressly recommends and provides that users of mobile communications services must roam with no additional charge when they roam within the European Union.
This rule should apply to both incoming and outgoing calls, outgoing SMS/MMS messages as well as data services. That means the end of international roaming, where customers will be charged as if they were using their service “at home”.
In accordance with the “Europe 2020″ digital strategy promoted by the European Commission, the European Parliament believes that fragmentation of the European electronic communications market (i.e., the significant number of operators existing in the region) should not prejudice customers traveling within the European Union.
To meet this goal, and thus offer further protection to EU customers, the Legislative Resolution of the European Parliament dated April 3rd, 2014 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent (amending Directives 2002/20/EC, 2002/21/EC, 2002/22/EC, and Regulations (EC) No 1211/2009 and (EU) No 531/2012) expressly recommends and provides that users of mobile communications services shall be entitled to roam with no additional charge, provided such roaming is within the European Union.
The Resolution expressly mentions that this rule should apply to incoming and outgoing calls, outgoing SMS/MMS messages, and data services. As an exception to soften the potential effects of this rule in terms of traffic management, it also recommends that operators be entitled to implement usage restrictions in cases of excessive or unusual roaming. In short, international roaming would not be subject to additional charges within the EU, subject to fair use by the customer.
It should be noted that roaming tariffs are already regulated at the EU level. Indeed, since 2012, roaming tariffs have dramatically decreased each year, in accordance with Regulation No 531/2012 dated June 13, 2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the EU. As of July 1st, 2014, roaming tariffs applicable to EU users have since decreased by up to 30%.
Should the Regulation be adopted as is by the European Council, its provisions would have to be implemented as from December 15, 2015. To anticipate its impact on wholesale markets, the Commission will reportedly publish additional regulations and/or guidance on wholesale tariffs by June 2015.
In order to prevent customers from abusing the system by subscribing in the cheapest country, and then using the phone mainly or solely in another country, in September 2014 Italy proposed to set a “fair use” limit for how much of an end user’s phone usage may be in other countries. Therefore, Italy submitted a new draft of the text where the date of December 15th 2015 proposed by the European Parliament is no longer mentioned. That draft text says only that the deadline
“needs to be defined and is a significant political question”.
As of January 2015, IDG (International Data Group) reports that the Council might try to delay the elimination of roaming from the original start date of December 15th 2015.
The Council of the European Union has to accept the regulations before they can take effect; a final agreement was originally expected by the end of 2014.
According to the proposal from Latvia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, operators will offer customers a
“basic roaming allowance”
, i.e. meaning they can browse the internet or make calls abroad at domestic rates up to a limited allowance.
Though the allowance is not specified, nevertheles its aim
“should not be to replicate domestic consumption pattern or to avoid abnormal usage”.
Beyond this allowance, operators will not be able to charge consumers more than the maximum wholesale prices, (currently 0.05 euros per minute or MB of data). It has to be noted that since July the maximum roaming surcharge that can be levied by operators has been 0.20 euros per MB of data abroad.
The way to make the Roam Like At Home roaming fee a reality has turned out to be more complicated than expected because of the wholesale charges charged by operators to each other when their customers travel abroad.
In fact, those operators that belong to Member States with cheaper domestic rates fear that they will be forced to hike domestic prices if the wholesale tariffs they pay to other operators are not decreased.
The text asks the Commission to review the EU’s wholesale market and to make legislative proposals according to the outcome of this review. Those proposals should amend the text by mid-2018, therefore the retail roaming surcharges will not be abolished before that date.
The Latvian proposal will be discussed at the beginning of February next week and, in case of an agreement, there will be the need to negotiate the amendments with the European Parliament and the Commission, meaning the text is likely to undergo changes.
Federica Romano, Head of Regulation, ROCCO, Published 28th Jan 2015
To read the Legislative Resolution of the European Parliament dated April 3rd, 2014, please click here.
To read the Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of June 13, 2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the Union, please click here.