EU moves to eradicate mobile broadband ‘bill shock’

1 Mar 2010

From today, new legislation from the European Commission will oblige mobile phone operators to offer mobile broadband customers a cut-off facility to protect them from “bill shock” after roaming within EU countries.

Under the roaming rules adopted by the EU’s Council of Ministers and European Parliament in June 2009, this cut-off mechanism will, following a warning, cut consumers’ mobile connection to the internet while abroad when their bill reaches a specified limit.

“Protection against data roaming bill shocks is a useful step towards building customers’ confidence to use mobile networks to surf the Internet when travelling around Europe,” said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

“Such confidence is essential if people and businesses are to use the Internet to its full potential,” Kroes said.

Under new roaming regulations, mobile phone operators are obliged to offer their customers from 1 March 2010 a monthly cut-off limit of €50. They can also offer customers any other limit. They will receive a warning when they hit 80% of the chosen limit.

Until 1 July 2010, customers need to make a deliberate choice in order to benefit from a cut-off limit. But, customers who do not make a choice by 1 July 2010 will have the cut-off limit set at €50 by default as from that date.

The cut-off limit available from 1 March 2010 will guarantee more transparency and protection for consumers, and it will ensure that they will no longer face bill shocks for using data roaming services.

As an example of the problem, in 2009, a German traveller downloading a TV programme while roaming in France faced a bill of no less than €46 000. In another recent example, a UK student was reported as receiving a bill of almost €9 000 for data roaming during a single month while studying abroad.

Thanks to the EU’s roaming rules, the price that operators pay each other per megabyte downloaded has been limited to a safeguard level of €1 per megabyte, and it will fall over the next two years. These savings should be passed on to consumers and deliver lower prices for surfing the Internet while abroad.

Member States’ national telecoms regulators are responsible for ensuring that mobile phone operators comply with the rules on cut-off mechanisms for data roaming in each EU country.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years