After adopting rules last year that would abolish wireless roaming charges throughout the European Union (EU) effective in June 2017, the European Commission (EC) published a draft document Tuesday proposing a “fair usage” concession that would limit EU wireless subscribers to no more than 90 days of “roam like home” service each year.
Observers say the draft EC proposal was developed in response to concerns, raised by network operators, that the elimination of roaming fees would encourage customers to take out wireless subscriptions in “low cost” foreign countries for use in higher-cost home markets. To prevent such arbitrage, which could create a new class of “permanent” roamers, the draft EC plan would allow EU wireless subscribers to benefit from free roaming for a maximum of 90 days per year. Wireless consumers would be required to log onto their home network at least once every 30 days to avoid roaming surcharges. Although network operators would be permitted to impose restrictions on voice call or data volumes during periods of free roaming, the EC document specifies that customers “should nevertheless be able to consume volumes of such services equivalent to at least the average volume consumed domestically by the customers of the tariff plan in question.”
If a subscriber’s roaming volume exceeds the limits of the fair usage rule, carriers would be allowed to impose a charge of up to €0.85 per megabyte of data and €0.04 per minute for voice calls. EC spokeswoman stipulated that “such situations would be very limited.” Subscribers to unlimited data or voice calling plans would be able to benefit from free roaming under the proposed rules as long as such activity corresponds to what is considered to be “average” use. The draft proposal also contains exceptions to the 90-day limit for wireless subscribers who live on one side of a national border and work on the other.
Unveiling the draft proposal, the EC stated that “data on travelling patterns across the [EU] indicate that a fair use policy enabling roaming customers to use regulated retail roaming services at the applicable domestic price for . . . 90 days in any one year would cover virtually all communications needs of [EU] customers travelling periodically for holidays and professional purposes.” While one industry official applauded the plan as one that “increases expectations of the sector for pro-investment telecom reform,” another executive characterized the fair use clause as “not that fair,” arguing: “it will just add further pressure on roaming revenue.”