Neelie Kroes, European Commission VP, recently set out her overview of the legislative changes needed to enable Europe's telecoms and ICT industries to complete on the global stage. Many of her aims are laudable (if not a little ambitious): she promises to guarantee net neutrality and provide an absolute safeguard against the blocking or throttling of services. However, she reserved her fiercest criticism for "artificial roaming charges" – the charges that apply when a customer uses voice, data or SMS services outside of their domestic MemberState. It is in this area that the European Commission has been most active in recent months, and has set its sights on ending roaming charges altogether.
The Commission believes that excessive retail charges are the result of high wholesale charges levied by the foreign host network operator and high retail mark-ups charged by the customer's own network operator. Price caps on, and progressive reductions in, both wholesale and retail prices for regulated voice, data and SMS services (introduced through the Roaming Regulation) have already had some effect. Further reductions in roaming charges are likely from 1 July 2014, when structural market changes take effect. From that date, customers will be able to shop around for roaming services and will not be tied to taking roaming services from their usual domestic provider ("decoupling"). Currently, data roaming traffic is sent and received over the radio access network of the visited network operator and routed between the visited network and the home network. Going forward, alternative roaming providers will be able to provide local data roaming services without relying on a wholesale data roaming service.
From 1 July 2014, domestic providers must not prevent the separate sale of local roaming services. They will also have to provide (free of charge) access to the network elements and services necessary for the separate sale of regulated retail roaming services, including the facilities and services needed in the process of switching a customer. The Commission is reviewing the possibility of further enhancing competition by enabling the alternative roaming provider to implement traffic steering mechanisms to direct traffic to its choice of visited network but this will not be implemented by the relevant commencement date of 1 July 2014.
Sign up to our email digest