Thursday, June 15, 2017

Roam Like Home

From the DW:
"EU finally kills off cellphone roaming charges"

On June 15, the European Union is finally ending extra mobile phone charges for phone users who leave their country. But critics say German and Spanish lobbyists have watered down the new rules.  It's been called a victory for the European Union - a sign that Brussels can protect its citizens from exploitation by telecommunications companies. After all, the world needed multinational legislation to counter the power of multinational corporations. But lobby observers say that those corporations, particularly from Germany and Spain, have worked to water down the new rules. A decade of compromises, delays, negotiations and re-negotiations will finally end on June 15, when mobile roaming charges will be abolished across the bloc. That means that EU-based phone users will pay the same for calls, texts, using the internet and downloads when they travel to another EU country as when they are at home. It's supposed to be a new dawn for consumer rights. Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper, for instance, was effusive on Tuesday, calling the new deal a "triumph for the EU, not only over the interests of mobile phone companies. The decision shows that Europe can change the everyday lives of people for the better. Five hundred million consumers will profit."  But there are holes in this new "roam like at home" world. For one thing, telecommunications operators are still allowed to set caps on high-speed flat-rate internet use abroad. For another, different networks are allowed to keep their different rules on which territories belong to the EU - while some include Switzerland, the British Channel Islands, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, for example, others don't - which means travelers to those places have to check which network their phone picks up. And, as Susanne Blohm of Germany's major consumer protection organization Verbraucherzentrale explained, the new rules are riddled with unnecessary complexities. "In principle, this June 15 [legislation] is a very, very big success," she told DW. "But one big point of criticism is that international calls aren't affected by the new regulations. I can go to Spain on holiday with my German tariff and call Germany for the same price. But if I'm in Germany and want to call abroad it could be more expensive. Paradoxically, it could be more expensive to call Poland from Germany than to call Poland from Spain, even though I'm at home." It is, as Blohm puts it, "legally very complicated and totally confusing for a normal consumer." "We as a consumer rights organization said international calls needed to be included in the new legislation, but it was never a part of the negotiations," she said. Guillermo Beltra, head of legal affairs at the European consumer organization BEUC, knew the problem well enough. "In the vast majority of member states it is unjustifiably expensive to call a different country from your own country, and the roaming deal does not put a solution on that." But he added that the EU was currently renegotiating telecommunications rules, and that a solution might be found. The fact that consumers had to wait 10 years for these reforms is largely down to a complex struggle between the different telecommunications companies over the caps on "wholesale roaming charges" - the fees that networks charge each other for using their networks.  Here, the largest firms - particularly Spain's Telefonica and Germany's Deutsche Telekom - were able to pressure the European Commission to keep the caps higher than the smaller operators - who charge lower fees - would have liked. But still, Beltra called the new regulations "a very big win for consumers overall," even though the major companies had done all they could to delay the new rules. For a while, the then-EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy, Germany's Günther Oettinger, tried to dilute them further by pushing a plan to have roaming charges only suspended for 90 days a year - but that was shot down. "Both Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom are the biggest incumbent operators and have a lot of influence over their governments - governments who have a lot of political power in the EU as well," he said. But ultimately, Beltra said, even these companies will be happy with the new deal. "I think they should see the glass half-full, like we do, in the sense that this opens a new era of seamless usage of their connectivity," he said. "It's a really good time to be in the data connectivity industry, because the EU just created measures to make sure the demand for data connectivity has no barriers. The problem is that the companies had been very short-sighted in the past trying to protect sources of income that they knew were coming to end."


^ It seems that with every new law there are also many loop-holes. The only way for this no-roaming within the EU rule to be truly effective it has to be completely no-roaming anywhere within the EU. If it's not then it isn't worth the paper (and translated into all the official EU languages) it is printed on. ^



http://www.dw.com/en/eu-finally-kills-off-cellphone-roaming-charges/a-39240855

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