EU warns Irish mobile firms they must obey roaming rules
Irish mobile phone operators may be on a collision course with the European Union over roaming rates.
The European Commission has warned mobile operators here that they cannot "circumvent" an upcoming EU law to abolish roaming charges.
Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed that Ireland's second biggest operator, Three, is planning to offer as little as 1GB of its 60GB data allowance when customers travel in the EU after the new law kicks in.
The operator believes it can legally do this by changing the terms and conditions in its mobile offerings. Three will now 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 1.6 million customers here, will then 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.
However, the move has alerted policy makers in Brussels, who have issued a stern warning about operator plans that contravene the spirit of the new EU roaming regulation.
"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 travelling 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."
Meteor, which is Ireland's third largest operator with over a million customers, also says that it will give customers less data when travelling in the EU than they get in Ireland.
However, it has not yet said at what level this will be set.
The Irish Independent understands that other Irish mobile operators, including Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and iD, will soon decide whether to follow suit with plans to prevent customers getting their full domestic data allowances when roaming in the EU.
Under the new EU law, operators may be allowed to offer less data to customers travelling in the EU if they can demonstrate to the telecoms regulator, Comreg, that only a certain amount of the value of the mobile plan is related to data.
Despite Three's plan to restrict its €30 monthly plan, which comes with 60GB of data at home, to 1GB when travelling in the EU, executives believe its formula is valid.
"Pre and post these changes... we are satisfied that our approach is compliant and allows us to continue to offer the best value to our customers," said a Three spokeswoman.
Under European law, the telecoms regulator is responsible for enforcing compliance with the roaming regulation.
However, a spokesman for Comreg told the Irish Independent that it would not comment on plans by operators concerning the data allowances before June 15. "When the new rules apply after June 15, 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.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Denis Naughten said the issue is a matter for Comreg.