updated 11:15 am EDT, Wed July 6, 2011
Aim is to slash roaming costs by 2014
The European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, which provides oversight for wireless communications, has proposed sweeping new legislation (PDF) that will attack the problem of high mobile roaming costs in the EU by letting users pick their roaming deals, among other changes. The proposal would give both users and alternative carriers greater flexibility and access to alternative roaming networks. The intent is to eliminate any differences in rates between calls made locally and roaming by 2015.
Currently, callers pay a high premium for calls or downloads made while roaming. A consumer will often pay less than 50 euro cents (72 US cents) for a megabyte of data downloaded locally. That same data could cost in excess of two euros ($2.90 USD) if downloaded while roaming.
"We are proposing to introduce profound structural market changes," stated Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, "because the time has come to tackle the root cause of the problem, the lack of competition."
There are several aspects to the proposed rules. The first is that consumers could select a separate wireless contract for their roaming. When they went out of their local area, their phone would automatically switch to their pre-selected roaming provider. They would retain their same phone number and would not have to swap out their SIM card.
The second would require carriers give alternative rivals access to their infrastructure at regulated wholesale prices. This would make it easier for alternative operators to offer competitive roaming services.
Also, as a "safety net," there would be retail price caps in place effective from July 2014 until some time in 2016. These limits (net of taxes) would include 50 euro cents per megabyte of data, 24 cents per minute for a call made, 10 cents per minute for calls received, and 10 cents for a text.
The EU already has in place some restrictions on roaming rates. A voice call made while roaming is currently capped at 39 euro cents per minute. Text message caps are currently set at 11 cents. These limits are set to expire in 2012. The new proposals must be approved by the European Council and European Parliament before they can take effect.
Carriers have usually objected to any attempts to regulate their roaming rates. But while interconnection rates are higher, they haven't usually had much success in persuading regulators that the markup is directly related to the cost.