Why the new EU roaming regulations are not good news for all consumers (or operators)

Kimi better be careful with the Instagram videos while he's on his holiday in Ibiza.

The EC has published the text of its proposals to support Roam Like Home within the EU.

Within its many clauses are some looking at how operators will be allowed to ask you for proof of residence (utility bills, signed statements from educational insitutions, proof of registration on electoral rolls) and how they will then be able to determine if you are telling the truth (they can only use their own billing data – not hire a PI, for example). Nor are they allowed to keep asking you for proof of residency, unless they have very good reason (from their own billing data) to suspect you are not where you say you are.

Also in the document are details of how operators can  implement fair use policies to prevent “abuses” – and protect themselves when they outbound roaming customers have home data tariffs that are cheaper than the amount operators will have to pay on the wholesale market. But although operators may be protected, consumers are less so.

Let’s take the text as given:

The domestic customer periodically travelling in the Union should nevertheless be able to consume retail volumes of such services equivalent to twice the volumes that can be bought at the wholesale roaming data cap by a monetary amount equal to the overall retail domestic price, excluding VAT, of the mobile services component of the domestic tariff plan for the entire billing period in question.

What this is saying is that if you are roaming and want to use data without incurring a premium, you will be able to use twice the amount of data that your domestic contract could buy if you paid the maximum wholesale roaming rate.

Still not clear? Let’s say that you are lucky enough to have a data plan that is unlimited or near to it. You’re more than likely to be Finnish or live in Finland. For example – Tefficient said earlier this year that “46% of Finnish SIMs are what the Finnish NRA calls ‘pay monthly subscribers with unlimited data’One such planDNA SuperÄlypaketti 4G 200 tarrif offers unlimited data with speeds of 5-50Mbps) for EUR24.50.

So Kimi takes his unlimited data plan with him on holiday to Spain. He is effectively allowed to use twice the data that that 24.50 would buy him on the wholesale market – minus the value attributed to the 200 free calls and 200 free texts that also come in the plan. That’s because it is only the data services element of his bundle that counts towards his nominal wholesale purchasing power.

So, let’s completely unscientifically say that DNA considers his data services to be worth EUR20 per month of his overall bundle. How much data will EUR20 get him? Well, let’s take the existing EC proposal of a wholesale data cap of 0.85 cent/ MB. Every 85c buys Kimi a MB of data. So EUR20 buys him 2.4Gb of data. Double that and he is allowed 4.8GB.*

Tefficient says that an average SIM in Finland uses 4.3 GB per month, but Tefficient says that DNA customers use on average 5.9 GB per month. So is our Kimi roaming like home in this Digial Single Market? Well if Kimi is an average DNA user, he will actually have to reign in his data usage while abroad. Even if you said that the entirety of his EUR24.50 tariff relates to data services, Kimi still better be careful when roaming. And this is only the case if he’s an average Finnish user… if he’s normally a much heavier user than the average, then he’s definitely going to be paying more, or will be limiting his usage.

Of course, Kimi’s not doing the maths –  it’s DNA that has to work out how much data he is entitled to, keep a running tally and then warn him when he is getting near. Even more galling for DNA, unless the wholesale cap price is lowered, it is still paying out more in wholesale costs than it is charging its retail customers. Anna Anttinen of DNA’s Governmental Affairs department pointed out on Twitter that “if the wholesale cap gets regulated 10x higher vs retail, money transfer from North could be hundreds of millions of Euros”.

By the way, in its illustration of this fair use case, the EC uses the example of a Netherlands customer who has unlimited data for EUR70 per month – netting him 16GB of data use whilst roaming. Using such a high tariff makes it look much more generous in terms of data usage limits  – but our example is a real world tariff. Finland, by the way, voted against the roaming fair use proposals in CoCom – the committee that sat down this week to thrash out final implemention details.

*No doubt someone will point out the maths is all wrong here, so please do so if that is the case.