New European Union telecommunications rules aimed at removing expensive roaming charges were unveiled yesterday.
The proposed law, drawn up by Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, includes both "carrot and stick" elements to encourage mobile phone operators to remove roaming charges for customers who use their mobile phones while traveling in the EU.
The "carrot" part is lighter legislation for operators who offer a so-called "Roam Like At Home" product, with no difference in charges between the customer's home country or anywhere else in the EU. Current EU laws, passed last year, require mobile phone operators to offer customers the chance to use a different provider when they travel. If they offer a Roam Like At Home package, they will not be required to decouple their roaming and domestic products in this way.
"But if your operator does not offer this, you can take matters into your own hands to avoid roaming charges. When you travel you can simply choose another provider who will give you better rates using same SIM card, same bill," Kroes said. That's the "stick" element of the proposal.
There's good news for consumers when it comes to contracts too. The proposed rules stipulate that a 12-month option must be provided and customers can leave without notice or penalty if contract terms change to their detriment.
Article 21 of the proposed regulation also states: "Providers of electronic communications to the public shall not apply any discriminatory requirements or conditions of access or use to end-users based on the end-user's nationality or place of residence unless such differences are objectively justified."
The proposed law would also make it easier for operators to launch cross-border services. Instead of having to get authorisation from each individual national regulator, companies need only apply in one country, which will become a "reference regulator" for all authorisations, including subsequent withdrawal and suspensions.
In leaked earlier drafts of the proposal, the Commissioner appeared to be considering creating a single telecoms regulator to replace 28 national authorities. That may make the proposals easier for the European Parliament to swallow.
The Parliament must approve the proposed law and can make amendments before it goes before the Council of 28 member states for final approval.