Jan van Alphen, board member at the International Telecommunications User Group (INTUG), representing business users, was invited to be part of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) consultation on International Mobile Roaming. This consultation is part of the Let’s Roam the World initiative, launched in 2015 by Mr Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. The aim of the Initiative is to define strategic Guidelines on International Mobile Roaming by late 2017, which may also enrich discussions being held by the European Commission, that is currently discussing the abolition of roaming charges within the European Union.
‘Today we live in an increasingly borderless world where more affordable communications within countries and across borders offer a real opportunity for consumers and business as well as telecom operators and investors,’ said Mr Sanou. ‘It is however important that all players in the ICT ecosystem work together to address this issue and find a balance between telecom operator revenues and affordable communications for consumers. The ITU Let’s Roam the World Initiative offers a neutral platform for dialogue and brings all stakeholders from across the sector together to exchange best practices and – together - define strategic guidelines on International Mobile Roaming.’
Roam Like at Home in the EU
The European Commission recently stated it would honour its commitment to abolish higher costs for calls and internet abroad by June 15, 2017. Earlier, the European Commission proposed a so-called Fair Use Policy of 90 days. The plan, however, came in for strong criticism, particularly from consumer groups, and was withdrawn by president Jean-Claude Juncker.
In a new proposal, the Commission has stated that customers will have the opportunity to make phone calls and surf the internet against the same rate as in their homelands, without any restrictions. Providers may only charge an extra fee when ‘excessive use’ has been detected. Considering the fact that free roaming will result in a lot of additional cost, providers will be allowed to deviate from the rules through national laws.
Jan van Alphen: ‘The way I see it, the impression arises that part of the executive responsibilities is being passed on to national policy. Furthermore, it should be made clear what criteria will be applied when defining “excessive use”. I find it remarkable that the “burden of proof” is primarily placed on the user. This seems to ignore the initial objectives, where transparency of use and no roaming charges were important premises. Although I understand the need for harmonisation of costs and charges as an important requirement for a balanced Fair Use Policy in the benefit of all stakeholders involved, I would suggest to examine this additional criterion again critically on an international level.’
New business models
Being able to provide direction in terms of international policymaking, INTUG believes the final objective should be a total elimination of any roaming charges, since this pricing system simply is not future-proof. Van Alphen: ‘Current business models are seriously outdated. In collaboration with all stakeholders, from government to ICT/telecommunications providers and consumers, new models will have to be developed that are more consistent with the changing supply and demand ratio. This will be to everyone’s advantage.’
Consequently, commitments at an international level are seen as essential by Van Alphen. ‘Of course we appreciate the fact that establishing the details of this process is a complex issue, partly because international consensus is needed. Increasing transparency with respect to costs and rates will be a useful first step in shaping the process. Another issue that should be attended is an international harmonisation of expenses and market and competitive balance. These are preconditions for success.’
Building blocks of global mobile roaming
The consultation was launched at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15 and 16 September, where regional regulatory associations, as well as regional and international organisations representing consumers and the private sector from around the world came together. The objective was to share best practices from around the world and to ultimately define building blocks on International Mobile Roaming. The process will start with an assessment report, which should be completed by the end of this year with guidelines defined by the end of 2017.