Usage data illustrates failure of EU’s mobile policy

Neelie Kroes seminar.jpg

Despite almost a decade of regulation, most EU citizens do not use their mobile phones abroad for fear of bill shocks, according to an EU-wide poll released yesterday (17 February).

Three out of ten EU citizens never use their mobile phone when travelling in another European country, and 28% deliberately switch off their cell phone abroad, the survey showed.

Only 8% said they do not change their phone usage when traveling, according to the Eurobarometer poll published by the European Commission.

The figures for mobile Internet usage “are even more catastrophic,” underlines a Commission press release.

Almost half of travelers (47%) say they would never use emails or social media in another EU country. Only one in ten would send or receive emails in the same way as they do when they are at home, and just 5% of the interviewees would not change their social media usage at all.

Worse, frequent travelers are twice more likely to switch-off data roaming than occasional travelers, the survey showed, underlining cost fears as the main driver behind cautious customer behaviour.

“Frequent travelers are better informed about the real costs of data roaming in Europe, than those who travel less,” the Commission acknowledged.

“This Eurobarometer proves what consumers have long been saying: phone network roaming charges continue to be excessive. They are serving as a restraining leash on mobile internet usage in the EU,” commented Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).

Kroes: ‘We have to finish the job and eliminate roaming charges’

The EU commissioner in charge of telecoms, Neelie Kroes, declared herself “shocked” by the figures. The poll “shows that we have to finish the job and eliminate roaming charges,” she said in a statement.

However, she fell short of admitting that her own policies were proving ineffective to increase consumers’ use of cross-border phone services, while at the same time squeezing the profits of telecoms companies.

Since she proposed her new telecoms strategy last September, the proportion of EU citizens who declared benefitting from cheaper phone calls abroad has decreased slightly, from 27% to 26%. Meanwhile, a staggering 68% say they have not felt any advantage, up from 67% in the previous poll.

The EU’s roaming regulations were expected to boost cross-border mobile phone usage in Europe, this way compensating telecoms companies for the lower returns on single users.

But as usage failed to take off, the revenue of telecom companies marked a 2.2% drop in in 2011, and a 1.1% drop in 2012, according to Commission figures.

The European Commission introduced a cap on prices of cross-border mobile calls for the first time in June 2007 – the so-called 'roaming regulation’.

The EU executive's intervention was limited to roaming because domestic calls remain a competence of national regulators. The first roaming regulation also excluded text messaging and data.

A second regulation entered into force in 2009, introducing further steps to gradually lower caps for voice roaming, together with guarantees against "bill shocks" for data roaming.

In July 2011 the Commission proposed a third roaming regulation and announced plans to structurally reform the European market for roaming phone calls slashing wholesale prices and opening access to the market to new service providers.

In September 2013, the Commission heralded the end of roaming and said that price caps will no longer be needed. In a legislative proposal known as Connected Continent, the EU Executive also proposed to eliminate fees for receiving calls abroad.

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