A European Union law to abolish roaming charges for people using mobile phones abroad came into force on Thursday 15 June. Residents of EU countries will now be able to make wireless calls, use data, and send texts without any additional roaming charges when they travel anywhere in the EU.
The Roam Like at Home (RLAH) campaign is the culmination of ten years of EU law changes, which have seen roaming costs become increasingly cheaper. The new rules will however be subject to fair usage policies, and additional charges can be levied should consumers use their phones predominantly outside of their home countries.
But here in Portugal, the end of roaming charges has raised concerns that national operators here could increase bills for domestic users.
Observers say this would be to offset the cost of providing services to millions of EU tourists who visit the country annually.
Operators here in Portugal have reportedly expressed the concern that RLAH will result in a negative balance and possibly translate into additional costs for Portuguese consumers.
This is due to the number of EU visitors to Portugal far outweighing the number of Portuguese travelling abroad. Previously, operators here would bill the operator in the home country of the visitor, which would usually imply some profit domestically.
But under the new regulations, operators here will have to support the call and data packages tourists signed up for in their home countries.
The removal of roaming will also see tourists in Portugal using far more data than was previously the case, placing an additional strain on infrastructures here, particularly in areas popular with tourists.
A study by international technology firm Altran supports these findings, saying that RLAH could see a transfer of revenue from poorer countries, such as Portugal, to wealthier northern European countries, as tariffs here could be raised.
Researchers pointed to the possibility that some operators could create new commercial strategies to minimise the impact of RLAH or even draw benefits from the regulation.
Another area of concern would be “false roamers” who are people that travel frequently between two countries, but purchase telecommunication packages in the country with the most favourable rate.
The Altran report also argues that the end of roaming does not take into consideration countries with large and rapid influxes of people, which is the case of Portugal, especially during the summer months.
Operators here would have to invest to support the increased traffic as networks become strained in months such as July and August. But operators would only profit from the improved infrastructure for short periods of the year when billing, while reporting losses for the remaining part of the year.
Under the RLAH regulation, phone calls, texts and accessing data with a mobile device from another EU country will be covered in the national bundle. The minutes of calls, texts and megabytes of data that a person consumes abroad within the EU will be charged the same as at home.
If a person has unlimited calls and texts, they will get unlimited calls and texts when roaming in the EU.
However, if a person has unlimited mobile data or very cheap mobile data at home, his operator may apply a safeguard (fair use) limit on data use while roaming. If so, the operator will have to inform the customer in advance about such a limit and alert them when they reach this limit.
As long as a person periodically travels and spends more time in their home country than abroad over any four-month period, they will fully benefit from Roam Like at Home.
A very small number of operators in the EU have been allowed by the national telecoms regulator to continue applying a small roaming surcharge after 15 June in order to avoid negative effects on very low domestic prices.
Article published by The Portugal News (www.theportugalnews.com)