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You are here: Home topics Telecommunications Telecoms: new measures to counter data roaming bill shocks from 1 July; lower roaming call price caps - guide

Telecoms: new measures to counter data roaming bill shocks from 1 July; lower roaming call price caps - guide

28 June 2010
by eub2 -- last modified 28 June 2010

From 1 July 2010 consumers no longer need to worry about accidentally running up huge bills when they connect to the internet using mobile networks via a phone or computer when abroad in the EU. Thanks to the EU's roaming rules, from 1st July travellers' data-roaming limit will be automatically set at EUR 50 excluding VAT (unless they have chosen another limit - higher or lower). Operators will have to send users a warning when they reach 80% of their data-roaming bill limit. The operator will have to cut off the mobile internet connection once the limit has been reached, unless the customer has indicated they want to continue data roaming that particular month. In addition, maximum wholesale prices for data roaming will fall from €1 to 80 cents per MegaByte. The maximum price for making a roaming call will be cut to 39 cents per minute (excluding VAT), instead of the current 43 cents, while receiving a call will cost a maximum of 15 cents per minute (excluding VAT), instead of 19 cents. The cost of making and receiving calls when abroad in the EU will now be 73% cheaper than in 2005, when the EU first started to tackle excessive roaming charges.


How will EU citizens benefit this summer?

From 1 July 2010, EU roaming rules will:
* Protect consumers from 'bill shocks' when they surf the internet with their mobile phones or laptops when abroad in the EU by introducing a cut-off mechanism once the bill reaches €50 (excl. VAT). Consumers can select a different cut-off limit or opt out of this bill shock safeguard entirely. Operators will be obliged to send a message (SMS, e-mail or pop-up message) to customers informing them of how much it will cost to surf the net via their mobile devices when they use roaming services and an alert message warning customers when they have used 80% of their agreed limit.
* Further reduce prices for mobile roaming calls. On 1 July price caps for mobile roaming calls will fall from €0.43 to €0.39 for calls made in another EU country and from €0.19 to €0.15 for calls received in another EU country (per minute and excluding VAT).
* Reduce the wholesale cap that operators are allowed to charge each other for data roaming from €1 to €0.80 per MB downloaded. This should lead to lower consumer prices for surfing the web with a mobile phone while abroad, as savings at wholesale level should be passed on by operators to consumers.
* Ensure that consumers are not charged for receiving a text message when they roam alerting them that a new voice mail has arrived, but consumers will continue to be charged for listening to their voice mail messages.

Data roaming

What is the data-roaming cut-off safeguard?

The cut-off limit helps to protect consumers from bill-shocks. For example, in 2009 a German traveller downloaded a TV programme while roaming in France and faced a bill of some €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.

This can no longer occur as the cut-off will come into effect after €50 (or another limit if the customer has chosen an alternative limit), unless the client explicitly chooses to go above the limit when they receive the alert message that they have used 80% of their agreed limit.

This limit was introduced by the EU's updated roaming rules in July 2009 (see IP/09/1064 and MEMO/09/309). Since 1 March 2010, mobile operators have been obliged to offer their clients a facility ensuring that data roaming bills will not go above a specified limit without the customer's explicit consent. From 1st July 2010, operators are obliged to set an automatic cut-off limit of €50 (excl. VAT) per month for customers who have not chosen a different limit, but customers continue to be able to choose a cut-off limit at any level they like (i.e. it does not have to be €50).

Customers receive an alert message warning them when they have used 80% of their agreed limit, for example €40. They are also informed of how they can continue data roaming beyond their agreed price limit if they want to.

The operator must disconnect the data service if the consumer does not indicate that they want to carry on surfing the web beyond the capped safeguard limit.

Customers can also opt out and tell their operators they do not want to use the data-roaming safeguard facility.

Will it become even cheaper to surf the web when abroad in the future?

Thanks to the new rules on data roaming, the maximum wholesale price that operators are allowed to charge each other for each MB down or uploaded falls from 1st July 2010 to €0.80. This will fall again to €0.50 in July 2011. This should lead to lower consumer prices for surfing the web with a mobile phone while abroad, as savings at wholesale level should be passed on by operators to customers.

The new cut off limit facility will also make consumers more aware of the price they pay for surfing the internet or checking their emails while abroad, and so increase the incentive for them to shop around for the best deal.

How can I find out what I will pay for roaming data services while abroad?

Since 1 July 2009, operators are obliged to send an automatic message to their customers when they enter another EU country with their mobile phone or laptop. The message can be sent as a text message, an e-mail or a pop-up window on the computer, for example. The message must inform consumers that they are roaming and give them basic information about the charges that apply for using their phone or computer to surf the web. (Similarly, operators must send their customers a message informing them of the charges applied for making and receiving phone calls and sending text messages when in another Member State).

Operators must deliver this information free of charge, and in an easy to understand format, when the consumer starts using data roaming services.

Mobile operators must give examples of how much it costs to use different data roaming services, by saying roughly how much data would be involved to send an e-mail, upload a picture or surf the web. This helps customers to understand how much it costs to use data roaming services and to help them monitor their expenditure.

Consumers can tell their mobile operator if they do not want to receive these messages.

If I have a bundled package, how I will be informed about the data roaming?

Under the EU roaming rules, the cut-off safeguard applies to money spent on data roaming services alone. If a customer has chosen a bundled package, which for example combines phone calls, SMS and data services for an "all-in" monthly fee, but has not placed a specific limit on data services, then the operator does not have to send a warning message. However in all other cases, where there is an agreed financial limit for expenditure specifically on data roaming services, including the €50 default cut-off limit, the operator must provide a warning when the user reaches 80% of the agreed limit.

How the will of €50 data roaming limit apply in EU countries outside the eurozone?

The data-roaming safeguard limit applies in all EU countries. For non-eurozone countries, the amount will be calculated based on the exchange rate published in EU's Official Journal as of 1 June 2010.

Why are only wholesale tariffs for data services regulated?

The EU's updated (1 July 2009) roaming rules introduced a cap per MB down- or uploaded to eliminate the very high wholesale charges for data services. When the amended EU's roaming rules were proposed, data services were considered to be an emerging service and the Commission did not find it appropriate to regulate these prices at retail level. However, the Commission considers that the savings at wholesale level should be passed on to customers and that operators should offer lower prices to their customers. In any event, the Commission will continue to monitor the end-user prices of data services to ensure that operators pass on these savings to roaming customers.


Do the new rules mean even lower prices for phone calls while abroad?

Yes. From 1 July 2010, under the Eurotariff, it will cost no more than €0.39 per minute to make a phone call from your mobile phone when abroad (down from €0.43). The price cap will fall again to €0.35 as of 1 July 2011 (all prices per minute, excluding VAT).

It is also much cheaper to receive a call: only €0.15 per minute (down from €0.19). This price cap will be lowered to €0.11 on 1 July 2011 (all prices per minute, excluding VAT).

Will I be charged per second, or per minute, for the calls I make or receive when roaming?

The rules introduced on 1 July 2009 ensure that EU consumers are billed per-second after the first 30 seconds for roamed calls made and from the very first second for calls received while abroad.

The European Regulators Group, the body which gathered all heads of telecoms regulators in Europe (now the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, BEREC), found that under per-minute billing, customers were paying 24% more than the minutes they actually used to make calls, and 19% more for calls they received.

This surcharge has been reduced by more than half for calls made and completely eliminated for calls received. Thanks to EU roaming rules, customers are only billed for services they actually use.

Will I still be charged for checking my voicemail when abroad? At what price?

According to the EU roaming rules, from 1 July 2010 operators will not be allowed to charge their customers for receiving a voicemail while roaming. Users should not have to pay for these messages since they cannot control their duration or their receipt. However, customers can be charged for listening to the voice mail messages, in line with their tariff plan.

Text messages

How much will it cost as of July 1 to send text messages from abroad?

Prices for sending text messages will remain at €0.11 per message (excluding VAT). Receiving an SMS in another country will remain free of charge.

What is roaming?

Whenever you travel abroad and make or receive a mobile phone call, send text messages (SMS – Short Message Services) or download data (for electronic mails, surfing the web, photos, music, films) from the internet using a mobile connection, you are roaming. You are roaming on a mobile network of a foreign network operator because your home provider does not offer the service in the country in which you are travelling. For providing this service, the foreign network operator will charge your home operator. This charge, known as the wholesale charge, is passed on to you at a different rate, sometimes and particularly before the introduction of the roaming rules, at a surprisingly high one.

What do I do if my operator does not respect my rights under EU roaming rules?

If you think your operator does not respect your rights under EU roaming rules (for example, they do not alert you when you reach 80% of your monthly data roaming limit, or overcharge you for roaming calls), you should complain to your national telecommunications regulator. These national regulators are responsible for ensuring compliance with the EU roaming rules in their own Member State and for imposing effective, dissuasive and proportionate penalties on any operators that fail to fulfil their obligations.

What is an EU Regulation? Does it have to be implemented nationally?

EU Regulations are legal acts that are directly applicable in the 27 EU Member States after their publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Unlike an EU Directive, an EU Regulation does not need to be implemented into national law, but is a law applicable throughout the EU after publication.

EU Regulations are thus instruments to achieve swift and uniform solutions at EU level.

The EU Roaming Regulation specifically applies to mobile operators in the EU. It is monitored by national regulatory authorities in the EU Member States and the European Commission itself.

The Regulation was based on a proposal from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, both of which agreed to its establishment and determine its coming into force.

Why was an EU Regulation necessary?

The European Commission proposed the first Regulation on roaming (that entered into force in 2007) because national telecoms regulators were unable to tackle the problem on their own. Roaming is a cross-border service and national regulators only had the tools to tackle the problem of wholesale prices at national level. They could only limit the prices operators in their country charged operators in other countries for the use of their network. Both in 2007 and in 2009, the European Commission tried to avoid having to propose a Regulation to the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers. Operators were called upon to voluntarily bring prices down. However, prices continued to remain too high limiting the effective Single Market in digital communications. For that reason, the Commission proposed the initial Regulation and later an amendment to extend its scope to SMS and data roaming.

The legality of the Roaming Regulation was confirmed on 8 June 2010 by the Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-58/08) (see MEMO/10/242). The Court ruling confirmed the Commission's view that the Regulation has a correct legal basis (the Treaty's rules to ensure the correct functioning of the EU's Internal Market), is essentially proportionate to the objective of protecting consumers against high charges and is justified on grounds of subsidiarity (the same objective could not have been reached without a common approach at EU level).

What will happen after the current Roaming Regulation expires in 2012?

The Commission wants to achieve a competitive Single Market for telecommunications services. This is why the Digital Agenda for Europe indicates that the difference in tariffs between roaming and home-country mobile-phone calls should approach zero by 2015.

A full review of the functioning of the Roaming Regulation will be carried out by 30 June 2011 (as required by the legislation), in which the Commission will assess how best to reach the Digital Agenda target.

Further details - EC roaming website

Source: European Commission

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