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Brussels, 14 March 2007
The EU Regulation to reduce mobile roaming charges before the final agreement: Frequently Asked Questions
The EU's 27 Telecom Ministers will gather on 15 March at the CEBIT IT fair in Hannover/Germany for an informal EU Telecom Council that could pave the way for a historic early adoption of the EU roaming regulation proposed by the Commission on 12 July 2006. For the European Commission, EU Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding will attend the meeting.
On the proposed EU Regulation on roaming, the European Council, which includes the 27 Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission, concluded last Friday in Brussels: "Every effort should be made to successfully conclude the legislative process on the reduction of roaming tariffs by the end of the first half of 2007." EU Telecom Commissioner Reding commented on this: "A political agreement on an ambitious reduction of roaming tariffs by summer is now within reach. I call on all Ministers and Parliamentarians currently working on the Roaming Regulation proposed by the European Commission last July to listen more to consumers and less to the industry lobbyists. All citizens in the EU should be able to judge in July how effective the work of their ministers and their Parliamentarians has been."
With its proposal of 12 July 2006 for an EU regulation on mobile roaming in the internal market, the European Commission seeks to reduce by up to 70% the charges consumers currently have to pay for using their mobile phone abroad (IP/06/978). To achieve this, price ceilings are set both at wholesale and at retail level to ensure that mobile roaming charges are not unjustifiably higher than those incurred by domestic mobile phone use. Below these ceilings, competition should take place for the most attractive roaming packages.
The EU roaming regulation also will enhance price transparency. It obliges mobile service providers to give personalised information on retail roaming charges to their roaming customers – on request and free of charge. Moreover, a customer subscribing to an operator will be able to receive detailed information on roaming and operators will have to keep the subscriber informed periodically on roaming charges.
The Commission is confident that the European Parliament and Council can reach an agreement in the first reading on the EU Roaming Regulation before the summer. Of course, to achieve this, further close cooperation between Parliament and Council will be necessary.
The support for the overall objectives which the Parliament and Council have already shown, is currently evolving into a consensus on the need for retail and wholesale regulation, and improved transparency for consumers. Discussions are concentrating at the moment on the method of wholesale and retail regulation and on the scope of the EU Roaming Regulation (only voice roaming or also data roaming). Further progress is expected from the informal ministerial meeting in Hannover on 15 March 2007 that could pave the way for a final agreement in early June. The German Presidency aims to secure an agreement in first reading during the Telecoms Council 6-8 June.
In the European Parliament, the rapporteurs for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) have already published their reports and will vote in March and April. A plenary vote on the EU Roaming Regulation will take place in May.
There is broad agreement both on the objectives of the EU Roaming Regulation among the Commission, Parliament and Council and on its general architecture (a combination of wholesale and retail regulation), not to mention strong consumer support (IP/06/1515). The discussion now is centring on different ways in which the objectives can be achieved through the regulation and on the level of the price caps – see table below for a comparison of the different models currently under discussion.
Although the Commission generally prefers not to regulate retail markets, the proposed EU regulation on roaming addresses the wholesale and the retail level, due to the exceptional nature of the roaming market and its atypical development. The Commission’s assessment is that market forces are still insufficient to ensure that price reductions at wholesale level are passed on to consumers in the retail market. Retail regulation ensures that savings are passed on to consumers and that consumers will actually benefit from the new EU Roaming Regulation.
The Commission believes that a single absolute price cap adds simplicity and therefore is a good basis to move forward. An absolute cap adds certainty for operators and ensures that they will still be able to offer innovative prices at the retail level. The level as proposed by the Commission is aimed at ensuring this will still be a profitable business for operators. The Commission's view on this issue is also supported by the European consumer organisation BEUC's recent study published on 20 February – http://www.beuc.org. The alternative suggested by some, namely to use average caps, would in the Commission's view create unnecessary complexity, confusion and administrative burdens.
Should there be a general consumer protection tariff for roaming customers at retail level?
There seems to be general agreement on the need for a consumer protection tariff and thus for retail regulation. Such a tariff was already proposed by the Commission in the regulation last July. The Commission is at the same time in favour of flexibility in the market, provided that consumer confidence is not abused or misled. Consumers should have to decide consciously to choose an alternative package or tariff plan (opt-out), but failure to do so would mean that they are automatically covered by the consumer protection tariff.
No. In the Commission's view all consumers should be able to rely on the consumer protection tariff and a suitable opt-out arrangement would have to be in place to ensure this. The Commission believes this is the only approach that guarantees that consumers get the level of protection they need. Opt-in, on the other hand, would mean that operators would need to draw the attention of consumers to the consumer protection tariff, but would have very little incentive to do this in a way that represented the benefits of that tariff fairly and objectively.
The regulation as proposed on 12 July 2006 includes short message services (SMS) and Multimedia Message Services (MMS) in their scope, but caps the roaming prices only for voice services. It requires national regulators to monitor developments in the prices of roamed SMS and data services closely. The Commission calls on mobile operators to demonstrate very clearly in the weeks to come their willingness to voluntarily reduce the very high roaming charges for SMS and data roaming to avoid that also these charges need to be regulated.
When will the new EU regulation on roaming take effect?
The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have to decide jointly, under the so-called “co-decision procedure”, how and when to adopt the Commission proposal, at which point it becomes binding law in all Member States. The Commission believes that the Regulation should come into force by summer 2007.
The European Commission’s roaming website (IP/05/901), includes samples of roaming tariffs per country as well as the results of the Eurobarometer survey about citizens' views on roaming (IP/06/1515) can be accessed at:
Summary table of positions between the European Commission, European Parliament and Council Presidency
 This proposal applies to the report from Mr Muscat, rapporteur for the IMCO Committee. The proposal from Mr Rübig, rapporteur for the lead ITRE Committee, is not yet accompanied by proposed rates.
 MTR= mobile termination rate