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European Commission warns Irish mobile operators over data roaming allowances


(stock photo)

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

The European Commission has warned mobile operators in Ireland and elsewhere that they cannot “circumvent” an upcoming EU law to abolish roaming charges.

The European Commission is aware of reports in the Irish media concerning mobile roaming charges to Irish consumers after June 15th, the date on which the EU ‘roam like at home’ rules take effect,” said the Commission statement, referring to reports in today’s Irish Independent.

Two of Ireland’s three biggest mobile operators, Three and Meteor, say that they will not give customers the same amount of data in Ireland and abroad, even after the EU law comes into effect on June 15. They say that altered terms and conditions in their customer offerings allow them to to avoid offering matching data allowances to customers when roaming. This will then allow them to charge up to €60 per gigabyte (GB) of data.

Under new wording included in its offerings, Three will describe its current ‘all you can eat’ data allowance as a “service benefit” rather than being part of the “core plan”. The operator, which has 1.6m customers here, will continue to offer its customers up to 60GB of data at home, but limit data to between 1GB and 7GB when roaming in the EU.

Meteor says that it assessing how much roaming data it will allow for customers after June 15th, but it will not match levels available to the same customers using its network in Ireland.

This approach appears to have alerted European Commission officials, who now say that there must be no exceptions.

“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 the Commission statement. “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.”

The Irish Independent understands that other Irish mobile operators will soon decide whether to follow suit with plans to prevent customers getting their full domestic data allowances when roaming in the EU.

Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile both say they are “reviewing” policies on the matter, while a spokesman for iD said that they did not wish to comment.

Under European law, the telecoms regulator is responsible for enforcing compliance with the roaming regulation.

However, a spokesman for Comreg told Independent.ie that it would not comment on plans by operators concerning the data allowances before June 15th.

“When the new rules apply after June 15th, Comreg will examine the offerings of the mobile network operators to ensure they comply with the new rules on data roaming and lower prices of voice calls.,” said the spokesman. “Comreg has not pre-approved any commercial offering.”

The Comreg spokesman declined to comment on whether it will allow a split in data allowances between domestic and EU roaming use after that date.

A spokesman for the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten, said that it would be “inappropriate” for him to say anything about the matter, saying the issue is a matter for Comreg.

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“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on matters which are independently regulated by ComReg,” said the government spokesman.

“ComReg also has a statutory role in protecting the consumer and I am not in the business of engaging in speculative commentary regarding hypothetical scenarios involving individual companies. I would expect all companies operating in the Irish space to be compliant with Irish and EU legislation, including ‘roam like at home’.”

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