UK mobile operators to scrap roaming charges by 2016

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has signed an agreement with EE, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone to end roaming charges by 2016

The government has signed an agreement with four of the UK’s major mobile operators pledging their support to scrapping mobile roaming charges by 2016.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has signed the formal agreement with EE, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone, following the government department’s pledge in September 2013 to create a Telecoms Consumer Action Plan including the issue.

The European Commission began capping the amount mobile operators could charge for calls, texts and data when European citizens were roaming from 2009, but the EC commissioner responsible for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, is determined to cut them entirely by the next European elections.

“There is no other sector of our incomplete European single market where the barriers are so unneeded, and yet so high,” said Kroes in a speech to the European Parliament earlier this year. “The time for change is now.”

Although the timescale of the DCMS’s plan is not as ambitious as that of Kroes, it is a positive step towards achieving her goals, which many operators have previously held issue with, claiming they will damage revenues and, in turn, their ability to invest into new networks.

“The government has made it clear that it sees no place for mobile roaming charges in a true European Single Market,” read the formal agreement released by the DCMS on 3 December 2013.

“The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to bring down roaming charges over time and the current EU Roaming Regulation will see roaming charges decline further. The market is responding. Operators offer various deals – such as daily rates, no roaming charges when using partner networks, or a contract price that includes roaming – which can help consumers and businesses manage costs.

“But we want to go further. We will work with Ofcom and the industry to develop a UK government position for ongoing negotiations in the EU that will help us achieve the goal of eliminating roaming charges within the EU by 2016. This will need to be accompanied by appropriate safeguards to prevent abuse and ensure that UK mobile operators are encouraged to continue to invest in their networks.”

Tariff transparency for mobile users

The agreement also contains pledges to help consumers avoid bill shocks, with operators promising to work towards introducing a monetary cap on customer liability when their phone is lost or stolen, and a deal for the networks to work with Ofcom on improving transparency so prices do not rise unexpectedly during a contract period.  

However, this last proposal has led to one of the UK’s biggest networks, O2, refusing to sign up to the agreement.

A spokeswoman from the company said: “We have a track record of delivering for consumers and we welcome any measures that improve transparency, clarity and fairness in consumer contracts. However, one area of the government’s announcement relates to Ofcom’s recently published guidance on ‘price rises in fixed-term contracts’.

“We need clarity on what the guidance means for us and our customers before we can sign up to all the commitments referred to by the government and we have been unable to obtain such clarity from government or Ofcom at the time of this publication.”

Computer Weekly contacted the DCMS for a response, but it had not returned the request at the time of publication.

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