Europe awaits of end of roaming - stay vigilant for unfair price hikes

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Thursday, June 1 2017.

In just two weeks, people travelling in Europe will no longer have to worry about huge bills when they use their mobile phones. Roaming surcharges end as of June 15. This removes a source of real frustration for many millions of people.

We are finally fixing a market situation that had clearly failed people and was costing them far too much. Before the EU took action, people often switched off their phone's roaming capability to avoid huge charges.

We call it Roam Like At Home (RLAH) - and it should be included by default from June 15 in all customers' mobile contracts that provide roaming services.

It is good news for holidaymakers, businesses - in fact, for everyone. It means that when people travel in the EU, they can call, send text messages and surf on their mobile at the same price that they pay at home.

For many months, mobile operators have been preparing for the long-awaited 'end-date' and adjusting their domestic tariff plans to new rules.

This is understandable: RLAH will represent a major change to their subscription contracts as all national markets around the EU adjust to the new situation.

I am fairly happy that things are proceeding well in most cases. In general, we see that operators will comply with the rules and are working closely with their national regulator to do so.

Many EU countries - for example Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Spain and the UK - already have RLAH-compliant offers on the market, or operators have already announced them for 15 June or even earlier.

To make sure that things run as they should, I recently wrote to the heads of national regulators, and to the CEOs of the main operators in all EU countries, to stress that RLAH needs to be properly implemented - and on time - in order for all Europeans to see the benefit.

Commission experts, national regulators and consumer watchdogs are carefully watching market developments in all countries to make sure that the new rules are respected.

In some cases, however, we need to take a closer look, together with national regulators. A few operators have announced tariff changes that are likely not to be compatible with the rules, or are using the introduction of RLAH to raise domestic prices.

I find this disappointing. The rules are strict - and will be strictly applied.

If operators are making non-compliant offers, they will have to correct them before June 15. Otherwise, their regulator will penalise them according to national law.

But I also want to stress one point in particular. No company in Europe has a reason to use the end of roaming surcharges as an excuse to raise prices.

We made sure that the new rules have provisions to guard against abuse or unintended consequences - and in particular, to make sure that there are no grounds for rises in domestic prices or threat to generous national deals on data that are offered to consumers in a local market.

In specific and exceptional cases where an operator with very low domestic prices, or with generous offers, can show that it cannot apply the new roaming rules without incurring significant losses, then - under the regulator's supervision - it can apply a small roaming surcharge to cover costs.

So there is no need - anywhere in the EU, even in these exceptional cases - to raise domestic prices.

Finally, I am a believer in efficient competition in the mobile markets. I also believe that consumers will continue to have a choice between service providers and that they will vote with their feet if they are not offered what they have been promised.

If operators use the end of roaming surcharges as a chance to increase prices, national competition and telecoms authorities should react.

They have tools at their disposal to promote competition in domestic markets. It is up to them to make the end of roaming work for people on the ground.

I would advise anyone who sees unjustified changes in their contracts due to the end of roaming surcharges, to inform their national regulator - and/or look for a better deal elsewhere.

I have no doubt that markets will eventually find the right balance.

A Digital Single Market also means a single telecoms market. That means conditions have to be fair and equal in all countries. No roaming charges when you travel in the EU should mean exactly that - wherever you are.

Europeans have wanted this for a long time. And it has really taken a long time, far too long. I know that we can make it work, for the end of roaming surcharges to be a success - because it is a real European success story.

Another blog soon.