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Europeans for Fair Roaming: Thanks chaps!

For the most part, mobile roaming fees are ridiculous.

I have absolutely NO time whatsoever for mobile executives who complain that roaming is actually an incredibly difficult issue to transact. That might have been the case a decade ago. Nowadays, if you’re serious about sorting out your roaming interconnects, you work with a firm such as Mach and they do it all for you.

Most mobile companies still employ a team of very nice people who would love to introduce more competitive and exciting product offerings, but who are prevented from doing so by their senior executives. Nobody ever got shot for hiking up roaming costs, you see. Nobody ever got shot for continuing to charge stupid amounts to their customers.

And nobody ever got shot for admitting to me — as several “directors of roaming” for a few major mobile operators have done — that it’s all ‘a massive racket’ and that there’s ‘absolutely no need for the silly fees we charge.’

I’ve had it direct from the horse’s mouth. I could name the chaps who admitted to this. I won’t, obviously.

There’s no hocus-pocus with roaming nowadays.

It’s just a profit centre. A gentleman’s club. You charge me stupid rates for my customers to roam on your network. I’ll charge your customers stupid rates to roam on mine. We both win, right?

(Unless you’re Hutchison, in which case, we’ll all nail your customers for crazy rates.)

Given that well over half of the mobile population globally deliberately doesn’t turn their phone on when roaming — to AVOID the stupid charges — it’s a mug’s game. Yes you’re making money *today* but the moment, the absolutely MOMENT, it’s possible to avoid them, the market will evaporate. And try as you might, legislation is catching up with you.

With this in mind then, I had news today from Bengt Beier, one of the leaders of Europeans for Fair Roaming. The organisation started off as a Facebook campaign and soon amassed 150,000 followers. Not difficult, given the fact everyone universally can’t stand roaming fees.

The campaign is supported by 14 members of the European Parliament and is, I think, best described as an influencer amongst the key players — most notably with the European Commission.

Yes, the European Parliament is good for something: They’re voting on May 10th about some new EU roaming regulations.

Here’s the overview:

According to this agreement, the cost for using mobile phones when abroad will be lowered to 29ct/min for calls, 9ct/SMS and 20ct/MB for internet access, starting in July 2012. Until 2014, the prices will go down even more, to 19ct/min for calls, 6ct/SMS and 20ct/MB for internet access.

In addition, consumers will be allowed to switch to a cheaper operator just for roaming services when abroad. When travelling outside of the EU, they will be warned when paying more than 50€ for using their mobile internet.

That last paragraph is potentially devastating for the roaming marketplace. Switch operator when you roam abroad? Ouch. I could, for example, use O2 domestically and then do a deal with Vodafone Europe for my European roaming. That’d level the marketplace somewhat.

I still think the legislated rates are way too high. It really isn’t rocket science, roaming. By all means apply a 1 cent/penny fee per minute/meg or something nominal, but come on — anything else is simply undependable.

If you’d like to find out more about the issue, have a look at the Europeans for Fair Roaming site.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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