Roaming: the EESC calls for a single tariff zone across the EU

People should enjoy the local rate when using their mobile phones wherever they are in the EU, said the European Economic and Social Committee in an opinion recently adopted on a proposed overhaul of the EU roaming rules.

A single tariff zone, offering calls and data consumption at local rates to all people who have a phone subscription in Europe, with the same speed and access to infrastructure whichever country the call is made to or from: this, in the EESC's view, is the goal that the EU should pursue in regulating roaming services.

While welcoming the European Commission's proposed review of the roaming regulation and its goals as a positive step in the right direction, the EESC believes a bolder objective should be set.

"The idea behind the Commission's proposal is that roaming services should be provided under the same conditions as they are at home, without any restrictions on access. This is a good proposal," said Christophe Lefèvre, rapporteur for the EESC opinion adopted at the July plenary session. "However, we believe that we should go beyond conditions and ensure that people in Europe do not have to pay more for their mobile communications when they go abroad."

The EESC also stresses that it is not enough to stipulate that, when similar quality or speeds are available on another Member State's network, the domestic operator should not deliberately provide a lower quality roaming service. This means, for instance, that if a consumer has 4G connectivity at home, they should not have to use 3G while roaming if 4G is available in the country they travel to.

Part of the problem is poor local infrastructure, which is why the EU should also be ready to invest in infrastructure to fill existing gaps and ensure that there are no "white spots", i.e. regions that have inadequate broadband internet coverage, many of which are known to be located in rural areas and drive away potential residents and businesses.

In addition, the EESC insists on the need to require multiple alerts to be sent to consumers to protect them from bill shocks. When approaching the limits of their subscriptions, the operator should keep alerting the consumer whenever the volume set for the previous alert has been consumed again, particularly during the same call or data use session.

Finally, the EESC points to the issue of fair use as crucial. While all mobile communications contracts mention fair use in connection with roaming, the EESC regrets that the regulation fails to define it. With the COVID-19 pandemic people have come to rely hugely on online activities and fair use has taken on a whole new meaning. Think what that means for an Erasmus student attending a university abroad, following classes on Teams, Zoom or some other platform, argues the EESC. That uses up a lot of data, and they will quickly reach their monthly ceiling. Fairness would be for people in such a situation to have the same ceiling in the country they are visiting as they have in their home country. (dm)