The long, rocky and sometimes amusing road towards the abolition of roaming charges across Europe is nearing its end. Or so it seems.
It has been nearing its end for some time. We reported, back when Neelie Kroes was in charge, the comings and goings, the skirmishes between her, her department and Vodafone. It was amusing and instructive to see just how much market muscle the likes of Vodafone has when it comes to influencing the timescales of regulation.
The end of the roaming era is to be fully two years after the Kroes attempt. As Anders Ansip, European Commission Vice President said before the latest meeting on wholesale pricing, “If no political compromise can be achieved, people will rightly question our common will and ability to deliver on our promise to them. That is a risk we should not run.” We can only agree.
Last week the last piece of the puzzle fell into place with an agreement on the wholesale roaming rates across Europe. Not everyone is happy with them, of course. Some MVNOs will see them as favouring the bigger players But the point is that they are agreed, and it now looks as if the dream will become reality.
The question is not, perhaps, why all this squabbling took so long and cost so much. The PR efforts of large operators alone, saying that the abolition of roaming revenues would completely stymie their ability to invest in new technologies must have cost a fortune. And, at least on that point, Kroes was robust. In her farewell speech she said, “What if there were no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Spotify? OTT players are the ones driving digital demand, demand for your services! That is something you can work with, not against.”
She also said she thought that “the telecoms sector is its own worst enemy”.
We agree with that too.
The other point is whether we needed all this long drawn out, legal, expensive and thoroughly frustrating process anyway. While the bill-shock horror stories still echo round conference halls, and even industry experts end up with huge roaming bills, the market eventually would have sorted itself out.
Any inequality in pricing within (what is meant to be) a single market, will normalize. As Robert Machin, wholesale and roaming specialist with Openet, says, “The European Commission seems to have a funny idea about travelling customers’ expectations. If I go to the Czech Republic, I don’t expect to pay the same to have my teeth fixed as I would back home. If I go to Munich, I don’t demand to pay the same for a pint of lager as I would inGoo London. I’m happy to pay the local going rate, whether that’s more or less”.
What Machin – who himself had to go into bat with his (actually sympathetic) service provider over huge roaming charges – wants “is not to be ripped off”.
In fact, the “roam like home” concept seems odd to Machin, who thinks it would be more sensible to able to “roam like a local” instead.
Whether or not the whole roaming inequality debate, the pushing and shoving of large corporates against Government agencies and the amount of press it all got is relevant is perhaps a moot point.
The point is that, finally, the end of roaming charges is now in sight.
And that must be a good thing.