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Finnish mobile operators opt-out from free EU roaming

Finnish mobile operators have been exempted from new European Union data roaming rules for now

Finnish carriers have been granted permission to put a roaming surcharge on customers despite European Union (EU) legislation abolishing charges coming into force.

15 June 2017 marks a landmark day for many travellers as the EU’s “roam like at home” (RLAH) regulation is expected to put an end to high roaming charges abroad. The basic idea is that EU citizens pay no more for their mobile use when travelling inside the union, but this might not be as clear cut as it sounds.

According to Finnish communications regulatory authority Ficora, major carriers DNA, Telia and Elisa (which hold 99% of national market share) as well as the smaller Moi Mobiili have all been granted exemptions to the new rules and authorisation to apply a roaming surcharge to their customers.

The RLAH regulation offers this opt-out if operators can prove they would experience revenue losses in excess of 3% by fully complying with the new rules.

Finnish carriers argue that large bills from foreign operators could hike up prices at home. This is because studies have shown Finns are among the highest mobile data users in the world and pay the lowest average price per gigabyte (GB) at €0.67, while unlimited mobile data contracts have long been the norm.

“Derogations were negotiated in [the agreement] so operators do not have to raise their domestic prices,” said Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, a Finnish member of the European Parliament and its roaming agreement negotiator. “What is most important, even if an operator gets a derogation, roaming prices will still go down by 85% – so the consumer wins big.”

Kumpula-Natri referred to the significant reduction in the price cap for wholesale data roaming rates. These dropped on 15 June from €50 per gigabyte (GB) to €7.70 per GB and will continue to reduce progressively to €2.50 per GB from January 2022.

Other roaming rates are capped at 3.20 cents per minute of voice calls and 1 cent per SMS. The regulation also includes a fair use policy which allows operators to reasonably limit roaming data allowances on unlimited or cheap contacts.

Jan Virkki, director of consumer subscription business at Elisa, confirms the company applied for the derogation because it estimated the combination of high mobile data usage volumes and the wholesale pricing will pose a cost risk to the company.

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“From Elisa’s point of view, the EU RLAH regulation as such is not fully compatible with developed and mobile data intensive countries such as Finland,” said Virkki. “The variation in mobile data usage is tremendous, and the travelling balance is clearly negative.”

A Telia spokesperson said its application was a precautionary measure to ensure competitiveness. The carrier has added “reasonable” amounts of EU data roaming to its old subscription plans.

Both operators have also launched new subscription plans this year, which they say are in-line or go beyond the RLAH demands.

Finnish operators are not alone in looking to opt-out from RHAL. Brussels-based newspaper New Europe wrote in early June that national regulators had received derogation applications from at least 11 mobile operators. These include Lithuania’s biggest mobile operators as well as operators in Estonia, Belgium, Portugal and Slovak Republic.

But any exemption is likely to be a blip in the EU’s free roaming vision. They are granted only for a year after which carriers need to reapply.

“Derogations are just an intermediate stage, which will be removed fairly quickly following both decreases in data prices and healthy competition between operators,” said Kumpula-Natri.

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