Out-Law News 3 min. read

European regulators publish new roaming guidelines

The European telecoms regulator has published new guidelines on mobile phone 'roaming', reflecting new rules on charges which came into force last year.

The document has been published by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) (14-page / 225KB PDF), which includes representatives of the national regulatory authorities. The guidance contains new provisions on 'inadvertent' roaming, as well as considering how service providers should deal with automatic connections which occur on ships and planes.

BEREC will publish additional guidance on the application of the new wholesale access obligation contained in the regulation, and on the separate sale of roaming services, shortly. It consulted on draft versions of these guidelines in July 2012, just after the new regulations came into force. The wholesale access obligation requires mobile network operators (MNOs) to meet all "reasonable requests" for wholesale roaming access.

The 2012 Roaming Regulation (26-page / 905KB PDF) came into effect on 1 July 2012. It regulates what can be charged by MNOs for providing roaming services, which occurs when a resident of one EU member state uses a mobile phone on a network based in another member state that the resident is visiting. Consumers will be charged a fee for roaming services, reflecting the charge made by the foreign mobile network operator to the domestic one for terminating calls on its network.

The 2012 regulation updated the original Roaming Regulation, which introduced a cap on the roaming fees that can be charged by an MNO to a consumer, as well as a cap on wholesale roaming charges. These are the fees charged by the foreign network to the home network of the consumer. These caps were challenged in the courts by four major EU mobile networks; however the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in 2010 that the EU-wide requirements were proportionate and did not undermine the right of countries to govern themselves.

The guidelines explain that consumers must be given the option to choose a specific financial or volume limit when roaming, with a cut-off in place to prevent them from automatically going beyond that limit. If the consumer does not do so, a default of close to but not more than €50 should apply. Providers should, as a matter of good practice, explain how this mechanism will work and how consumers may reauthorise use past the limit if they wish to on their websites, BEREC said. They should also explain what will happen to any data in the course of being downloaded if the consumer does not wish to continue use once the limit is reached.

BEREC said that although MNOs were free to charge roaming networks different fees according to the time of day or year, in order to be compliant with the cap the average fee taken over the course of a year must come under the limit set by the Roaming Regulation. Although technically not banned by the Regulation, "maintaining wholesale charges at their existing level throughout the year with the intention of making a reduction at a later stage" was "unacceptable commercial practice" and "could have an adverse effect on other operators", the guidelines said.

According to the BEREC guidelines, MNOs should take steps "reduce consumer harm of higher bills" as a result of 'inadvertent' roaming. This can occur when the signal from a mobile device is picked up by a different network, without the consumer taking any action. BEREC said that MNOs should recognise that "radio signals do not respect land borders", and should consider implementing "special tariffs" or barring devices from accessing particular networks without consent, particularly where consumers lived close to national borders. The guidelines also recommend technical measures that MNOs could adopt to prevent inadvertent roaming in the first instance.

The guidelines also recommend that roaming providers inform consumers about the possibility of additional charges where they automatically connect to the network while on a ship or plane. Connections made from ships and planes are excluded from the scope of the Roaming Regulation, which means that the caps do not apply. However, BEREC recommends that MNOs apply the caps where automatic connections are made, unless consumers are connecting to a satellite network using a special handset.

The document also clarifies that the transparency measures, including automatic cut-offs, in the Romaing Regulation apply when consumers roam outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), although caps and other provisions do not apply.

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