The government has intervened in Ireland’s data roaming row, urging the telecoms regulator Comreg to make sure Irish mobile operators adhere to roaming rules when roaming fees are abolished across the EU in June.
The intervention comes a week after the European Commission warned Irish mobile operators that they must not attempt to reclassify data allowances to avoid adhering to the new EU roaming law.
"The new EU rules clearly cover data services, along with voice and SMS," said Communications Minister Denis Naughten.
"There is no exemption for the data services, only exceptional limits in case of unlimited or very competitive offers. The Irish Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, is the competent statutorily independent regulatory authority for telecoms and as such will be the authority which will regulate the Roam Like At Home regime in Ireland from 15 June 2017.
"I would expect all mobile operators to be fully compliant with Irish and EU legislation, including Roam Like at Home from 15 June 2017.
"ComReg will have a role in scrutinising all existing and new mobile market offerings to ensure full legal and regulatory compliance."
Mr Naughten was responding to a parliamentary question put by Labour TD Sean Sherlock about what the government intended to do to ensure Irish mobile operators do not overcharge Irish consumers after the roaming law is introduced.
Last week, Irish mobile operator Three announced 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 afford to 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 spokesman 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.
A spokesman for Comreg, which is tasked with monitoring compliance among Irish operators, declined to comment on Three’s plans.
One could call it a challenging first week on the job for Comreg's new chairman, Gerry Fahy. The former Vodafone executive's first task was to avoid saying much of anything about what could be a serious threat to Irish citizens' phone bills.