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EU Roaming Tariffs

As has been discussed often on this site the above link shows roaming charges in Europe will be abolished from next year.

Does this mean if I am living in a expensive country like Sweden, that I can travel to a cheaper country, e.g. Romania, and buy a local mobile phone deal? In this way not only will I have cheap mobile use as I travel Europe, but I could also have a considerably cheaper mobile contract if I stay at home and don't travel?

What are the restrictions that will be in place on this agreement? Are there any attempts to stop a complete single mobile market (bad news for poor countries or good news for rich countries?)?

closed as too broad by Maître Peseur, Thorsten S., Giorgio, Jan, David Richerby Dec 9 '16 at 7:49

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    More information here: ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/roaming – Jan Doggen Dec 8 '16 at 12:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is more about law than about travelling. – Jan Dec 8 '16 at 22:33
  • The roaming packages are usually much much expensiver than local ones, and the so-called no roaming prices will be based on basic prices - very expensive compared to packages. – Danubian Sailor May 29 '17 at 20:52
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The suggestion you make was exactly why telecom operators objected to these regulations. A compromise has now been found that you cannot use this trick continuously.

Quoting from the 30 June 2015 press release Roaming charges and open Internet: questions and answers:

The rules prevent abusive uses: for example, if the customer buys a SIM card in another EU country where domestic prices are lower to use it at home; or if the customer permanently stays abroad with a domestic subscription of his home country. This is not the usual use of roaming as the vast majority of Europeans experience it. These unusual behaviours are also called 'permanent roaming' and could have a negative impact on domestic prices, and ultimately on consumers. This is why there is a fair use safeguard. Once that limit is reached while being abroad, a small basic fee can be charged. This will be much lower than current caps (maximum prices that operators can charge consumers for roaming in the EU) and is likely to decrease even further. The Commission has been mandated to define the details of the fair use limit.

From the 22 september 2016 press release Questions and answers on fair use policy and other preparatory measures it seems that an exact definition of fair use is left to the operators. The release talks about Rules on "fair use" measures that operators can take (emphasis mine). Some guidelines are given, however:

Fair use policies have to be notified by the roaming provider to the national regulatory authority.

  • Fighting commercial abuses. Abuses could be related to the mass purchase and resale of SIM cards for permanent use outside the country of the operator issuing them. In such cases, the operator will be allowed to take immediate and proportionate measures while informing the national regulator (e.g. suspension of service on the basis of breach of contractual conditions). The operator has to simultaneously notify the national regulatory authority about the evidence of the systematic abuse and the measures taken. This enables the national regulatory authority to monitor the application of that measure in accordance with the established requirements and to react if necessary.

  • Individual abuse by customers.Roaming is for travellers. The new draft allows operators to check usage patterns to avoid the abuse of the "Roam like at Home" mechanism. A non-exhaustive list of criteria includes: insignificant domestic traffic compared to roaming traffic; long inactivity of a given SIM card associated with use mostly, if not exclusively, while roaming; subscription and sequential use of multiple SIM cards by the same customer while roaming. In such cases, operators will have to alert their users. Only if these conditions are met, operators will be able to apply small surcharges (the Commission proposed a maximum of €0.04/min per call, €0.01/SMS and €0.0085/MB). In case of disagreement, complaints procedures must be put in place by the operator. If the dispute persists, the customer may complain to the national regulatory authority who will settle the case.

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    Note that it's still a draft (cf. "What does the Commission envisage", etc.) – Relaxed Dec 8 '16 at 13:43
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    It's funny how operators complain when a few huge corporations own the majority of the networks (Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange), so in many ways the market is already united. – JonathanReez Dec 8 '16 at 15:43
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Creating a single market for telephony in the way you describe has never been the goal of these regulations. The basis for the discussion has always been that roaming was for travellers and customers would continue to get a mobile phone contract locally and operators have been fighting hard to keep it that way (see, e.g., this press release issued by the Commission last September).

The regulation should therefore merely make incidental use in another EU country easier. Concretely, I remember talks of limiting free roaming to a certain number of days in a given year and the Commission now seems intent on letting operators and national authorities determine what's incidental or not but nothing is final yet.

Importantly, roaming is free for customers but operators still have to pay to use another operator's network. This "wholesale" price is also capped, but (obviously) not planned to go all the way to 0. This means that in your scenario, the Romanian operator would have to pay quite a bit to the Swedish operator, possibly eating up all their profit. The restrictions I mentioned before are intended to allow them to terminate your contract if they can determine that roaming charges are disproportionately high and Romania is not the primary place of use (not that it will not necessarily be about any specific legal notion of "residence", the press releases uses the phrase "stable links" instead).

Unfortunately, this also means that getting a SIM card for long-term travel or keeping it alive from abroad could be more difficult than it is now, when operators can charge you for roaming and have fewer reasons to prevent customers from roaming a lot.

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    " keeping it alive from abroad could be more difficult " - I presume they won't cancel the number, just impose a surcharge. After all, thousands of businessmen stay abroad most of of the time without changing their number. – JonathanReez Dec 8 '16 at 15:44
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    @JonathanReez Well, I do too but until now that's a non-issue because there is no regulation saying it must be free and the operator happily cashes in on the charges I make. The prices are posted in advance, you get a SMS warning and everybody is happy. It's difficult to do the same once the regulation is in place. You obviously cannot charge from the first call/MB and probably cannot slap a surcharge without a clear warning. Perhaps switch to some premium plan if you go over some threshold of roaming use? We will have to see how it plays out. – Relaxed Dec 8 '16 at 15:57
  • Roaming is free but calls are not. You still has to pay the so-called 'normal' price which is nowaday so overpriced compared to bundle/package prices that almost nobody uses it (flat rates are de-facto standard). – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g May 29 '17 at 15:14
  • @9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo Not sure I follow, which "normal" price would that be? Free roaming also means free calls if you have a bundle. That's certainly the way it works for all the free roaming plans that have begun to appear. Also, there is no "de facto standard across all markets. – Relaxed Jun 3 '17 at 8:46
  • @Relaxed this what you write wasn't mentioned in earlier documents. It appears to appear in newest faqs, however. We must wait until 15th June to see how it will really work. – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Jun 6 '17 at 6:40

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