Sunday 23 April 2017

Comreg to investigate Three over proposed controversial data roaming allowances

Under European law, the telecoms regulator is responsible for enforcing compliance with the roaming regulation. Stock photo: PA
Under European law, the telecoms regulator is responsible for enforcing compliance with the roaming regulation. Stock photo: PA
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The telecoms regulator is to investigate controversial new data roaming allowances proposed by the Irish mobile operator Three.

The new allowances would drastically reduce a Three customer’s EU roaming data provision, even after an EU law abolition roaming fees kicks in this June.

“We are aware that a mobile operator has recently informed its customers of new contractual arrangements that purport to draw a distinction between a contractual data allowance and an unlimited all-you-can-eat-data ‘service benefit’,” a Comreg spokesman told Independent.ie.

“We have sought information from the operator concerned so that we can assess whether the operator is in compliance with its existing obligations, as well as with the new roaming rules that will come into force on 15 June.”

It is the first time that the telecoms operator has commented on the controversy. Last week, the European Commission criticised Three’s plans saying that “there is no loophole by which part of the domestic data allowance could be regarded as gift or side benefit and would therefore not count when traveling abroad”.

This week, the Irish Communications Minister, Denis Naughten, warned that Comreg and Irish mobile operators would be expected to adhere to the new European roaming rules.

“There are serious consequences for non-compliance,” the Comreg spokesman told Independent.ie. “Over the past year, we have brought several criminal prosecutions, have imposed fixed penalty notices on operators and have taken other action to bring operators into compliance.

“In order to avoid prejudging the outcome of compliance investigations, we generally do not comment on compliance matters until we have completed an investigation. However this should not be taken as implying a lack of concern on our part.”

Three plans to offer as little as 1GB of roaming data on its plans after the roaming abolition law is introduced. The company says that it cannot translate its ‘all you can eat’ data allowances, which equate to 60GB, into roaming allowances because of onerous costs of up to €7.70 per gigabyte charged by other European operators.

But the European Commission has warned that mobile operators cannot partially implement the new roaming law.

“There is no loophole by which part of the domestic data allowance could be regarded as gift or side benefit and would therefore not count when traveling abroad,” said a spokesman for the Commission.

“Doing so would appear like a clear case of circumvention, for which there is no basis in the Roaming Regulation. Thus, under the new rules operators will not be allowed to offer only half a roaming experience to clients.”

However, the Commission spokeswoman later confirmed that exceptional circumstances apply to mobile packages with unlimited data or which are considered very cheap.

A formula is currently being agreed whereby such unlimited data packages can be quantified for the purposes of roaming allowances. However, the spokeswoman said that an operator offering an ‘all you can eat’ allowance at home for €20 per month, such as Three, might be obliged to offer at least 5GB of roaming data.

Three has also raised the prices of its monthly mobile plans. Its bill pay customers have received notice of a €5 monthly rise, while prepay customers will receive fewer benefits and have their credit period shortened.

“We remind consumers that the mobile market is competitive and they have a choice of providers,” said the Comreg spokesman. “Customers who are notified of a change to their contractual conditions have the right to withdraw from their contract without penalty and switch to another provider within the relevant notice period.”

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