The European Commission are pushing radical proposals to try and boost competition for mobile phone use when abroad by allowing customers to sign up for a cheaper 'roaming contract' alongside their existing service. This would mean customers could opt to use a different mobile provider who offers cheaper services than their existing phone contract when abroad, but crucially, they would still be able to use the same phone number and SIM card as on their normal mobile contract. When travelling abroad, they would automatically switch to their chosen roaming provider. The Commission also suggest that regulated wholesale prices for roaming should be implemented to encourage more companies, such as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to be able to compete. Both proposals are suggested to come in to force from the 1st of July 2014.
"This proposal tackles the root cause of the problem – the lack of competition on roaming markets – by giving customers more choice and by giving alternative operators easier access to the roaming market. It would also immediately bring down prices for data roaming, where operators currently enjoy outrageous profit margins."Neelie Kroes, (Vice President for the Digital Agenda) European Commission
Currently, wholesale price caps exist for mobile data roaming which are supposed to ensure that prices fall, but network operators have not been passing these on to consumers. In some cases, networks still charge up to €12 per megabyte. To help ensure prices fall, the Commission propose retail prices caps for data roaming. A staged approach has been set out to ensure retail price reductions begin quickly. This would start at 90 cents (80p) per megabyte in July 2012, falling to 50 cents (45p) per megabyte by July 2014. Voice calls would also see the retail price caps reduced whilst SMS's would fall by 1 cent to 10cents.
Existing measures that are in place to help protect consumers such as the €50 'bill shock' protection on monthly bills when abroad would remain. Retail caps for voice and SMS are expected to remain until mid-2016 and wholesale caps until 2022. The proposal will now need to be submitted to the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers for adoption in to law.