EU demands that Irish mobile operators respect roaming abolition

2 Mar 2017

Image: skyfish/Shutterstock

The fear that Irish mobile operators will circumvent the incoming ban on roaming charges has forced the European Commission’s hand.

Yesterday (1 March), it emerged that mobile operators were lining up their ducks in a row ahead of the impending abolition of roaming charges in the EU.

‘Roam like home’ is the simplified phrase that, in essence, explains what the European Commission (EC) has spent 10 years inching its way towards. As of 15 June this year, contracts that you enjoy at home must be respected within fellow EU member states.

However, this won’t be as clear-cut a process as customers probably hoped.

At Three, for example, a new reality is emerging. While currently, users on bill pay often have all-you-can-eat data, this will not be provided on the continent. Instead, bill pay plans are being revised.

Essentially, a data limit will exist both here and abroad, though, when in Ireland, all-you-can-eat data will be provided as an ‘additional service benefit’.

This has sparked much umbrage and, in response, the EC has stated its case, most importantly clarifying that data is not exempt from the ‘roam like home’ regulatory change, as had been implied.

“There is no loophole by which part of the domestic data allowance could be regarded as gift or side benefit and would therefore not count when travelling abroad,” it said in a statement.

“Doing so would appear like a clear case of circumvention, for which there is no basis in the roaming regulation.”

With regard to options taken by some mobile operators, the EC said “selective roaming” is a no-no.

However, despite the clear tone of the statement, which reads like a stern warning to mobile operators, there still appear to be clauses within which operators can navigate through.

For example, while there is no exemption for the data services in general, there will be some room to manoeuvre in “exceptional limits, in case of unlimited or very competitive offers”.

Also, operators can limit roaming data volumes by at least double that of what the customer’s monthly plan covers, when paying the wholesale price. This will not affect customers’ bills, though.

So there are some loopholes that operators can jump through, it just appears that the EC is not happy with how certain companies are doing it at the moment.

It also insists that ComReg will play a part, claiming all national regulatory authorities “will have a major role in ensuring that the rules of the roaming regulation and the implementing regulation are not being circumvented”.

“This also clearly means obligations to monitor for the Irish regulator,” it said.

So far, Vodafone appears to be the only operator with a clear, stated policy in line with what users expect.

“Vodafone Ireland will be implementing a full take-your-home-tariff-abroad policy for mobile customers with no changes to other tariffs or package plans (data included),” it said in a statement.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic