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04/12/2016

Governments lower roaming charges in Western Balkans

Digital

Governments lower roaming charges in Western Balkans

Sobriety app. Serbia, 2008 [lab604/Flickr]

Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia signed an agreement in Budva on 29 September, reducing roaming prices based on the EU model. BETA/EurActiv Serbia reports.

The agreement envisages the gradual lowering of roaming prices, to the level which citizens of EU member countries pay when they are staying in another member country.

In addition to being a new initiative for cooperation in the Western Balkans, which aims for EU membership, this step will enable the regional customers to use their mobile phones under much more favorable conditions. Although the countries invoved are poorer than the EU, roaming prices are far higher.

For example, data transfer is up to 30 times more expensive in Serbia, depending on the operators’ offer.

It was also announced that the signatories will ask Brussels to grant the citizens of these four countries lower roaming prices within the EU. It is expected that Turkey and Albania will also join this initiative.

Rasim Ljaji?, Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Telecommunications, told reporters in Budva after the signing of the agreement that the plan is to lower prices to EU levels over a period of three years, and that the reductions will be determined by a joint coordinating body of the participating countries within a month.

For Serbians, this will mean a significant reduction of prices for internet use.

“Nowadays, we pay five times more than the EU countries for a minute of conversation, three times more for text messages, and 33 times more for data transfer. This is the main reason why this agreement is important for the citizens of our countries,” Ljaji? told BETA.

In order for the agreement to be implemented, participating countries will have to change their regulations. Ljaji? pointed out that this will be done within the next month. Naturally, operators will have the opportunity to offer even lower prices.

This is also an inter-state agreement, which does not depend on whether the mobile phone operators agree with it or not.

Until recently, operators were not informed about this initiative, but they requested involvement in finding the best solution. According to Ljaji?, the authorities had talks with them, but serious discussions are yet to be held.

“We already had talks with the three operators which work in Serbia. I would be lying if I said that they are pleased with this process, but we explained the procedure to them and presented some arguments about why the signing of the agreement is also in their interest – the frequency of telecommunication traffic will increase,” Ljaji? said.

Damir Hadži?, Minister for Transportation and Communication of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that state-owned operators in Bosnia have agreed with the lowering of roaming prices.

Expansion of agreement is planned

The agreement was signed by Ljaji? and the ministers of Montenegro, Vujica Lazovi?, and Bosnia, Damir Hadži?, and the deputy minister of Macedonia, Marta Arsovska Tomovska. Albania and Turkey, which are also participants, are expected to join at a later date.

“Representatives of Albania and Turkey were not at the signing, because they have not completed their procedures, but the agreement remains open and we expect these two countries to join soon,” Ljaji? said.

He added that they agreed at the meeting to once again ask Brussels for lower roaming prices, which already apply to the population of the EU, to also apply to the visitors from the Western Balkans.

“The first initiative, which we launched with Macedonia and Montenegro, yielded no result. Now, all the signatories are moving on the initiative again. I cannot say that we are very optimistic, but this is our legitimate goal,” Ljaji? said.

He estimated that such initiatives are important for attracting foreign investment, and that the countries will establish such connections in other fields, too.

Background

Roaming prices in neighboring countries are significantly higher than what EU citizens pay in another EU member country. For the citizens of Serbia, the price of 1 megabyte of data costs up to RSD800 (EUR6.8), including the 20% VAT, although package pricing can be around RSD300 (EUR2.5), which is still 10 times higher than the limit in the EU. The difference is somewhat lesser, but still drastic, in prices for conversation and text messages.

The regulatory body in Serbia, RATEL and similar bodies in the Western Balkans, have also found that prices in the region are significantly higher than in the EU. In previous years, the EU was requested to impose limits for its companies in the region, but the response from Brussels was that this is not possible.

This is why a new initiative was launched, which included the relevant ministries of the countries of the region, considering that the only way to lower the prices is to pass regulations at the state level.