Western Balkan countries attempt to lower roaming charges

Android handset. Belgrade, 2008. [lab604/flickr]

Before the end of this month, Montenegro will host a meeting of communications ministers of several southeastern European countries, who will consider the possibility of reducing roaming charges in the region, following the EU’s example. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Representatives of Serbia’s competent regulatory body Ratel told EURACTIV Srbija that the general plan was to reduce mobile communications’ roaming charges in order to bring them down to a level similar to that of the EU within three years.

After the European Commission’s multi-year effort to reduce prices ofroaming within the Union, prices in the EU are far lower than in the region. Ratel Executive Director Milan Jankovi? said this was confirmed by the oversight conducted by this body of the prices of operators’ commercial services, which include roaming.

€6000 for watching a movie

Although there is a difference in both the prices of calls and SMS text messages, the difference is even wider when it comes to data transfer. That was the cause of numerous complaints by Serbian users over high bills in recent years, such as an incident in 2011 when a user was handed a €6,000 euro bill for watching TV shows while staying in nearby Slovakia, for a total duration of 111 minutes.

Meanwhile, Ratel has taken measures within its jurisdiction to prevent such things from happening again. Those measures, to name a few, include the publication of a comparative overview of operators’ roaming prices in different networks, pinpointing the difference in prices against domestic traffic, and a new requirement for operators to send the users who exit Serbian territory a message containing information on roaming prices.

The operators themselves are offering more favorable tariffs with certain sets, and in the networks owned by the same operator abroad, but the prices are still conspicuously higher than those in the EU. Thus, the price of one megabyte with the same operator abroad is around one euro, while otherwise it reaches above €6.5.

The situation is similar in neighboring countries. Subsequently, the regulators of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro have requested that the EU recommend to the European providers operating in the region to harmonize the price of roaming with the one in the EU. The opinion of the Electronic Communications Directorate was that this was not possible.

That is why an initiative was launched to attempt to reduce and harmonize roaming prices by an interstate agreement, and a meeting of regulators was recently held in Macedonia.

The negotiations for the time being involve Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and Albania, while the plan is to try and include Bosnia-Herzegovina as well.

As Ratel Executive Director Milan Jankovi? said, at the upcoming meeting in Montenegro the ministers, will look at possibilities for reaching an interstate agreement on price cuts. Jankovi? explained that the ministers in charge of telecommunications will have to decide on that, given that legal amendments are necessary to practically impose the decision on reducing prices on the operators.

“The reduction of prices was also imposed on operators in the EU,” said Jankovi?, adding that each of the countries involved in the initiative has a different legislation, hence one should properly consider the possibilities for achieving such agreements.

There are three telephone operators in Serbia – Telenor, Telekom Austria Group member Vip and Telekom, which is the former state telecommunication monopoly. They told EURACTIV they had not been officially notified about the initiative and asked that they be included in the decision making process.

The European Commission proposed in September 2013 a wide reform of the telecoms sector intended to kick-start the underperforming European telecoms sector and incentivise investment in ultra-fast broadband networks.

Brussels proposed to create a single market for telecoms in Europe. The sector still operates largely on the basis of the 28 national markets.

Under the commission's plan, the single market for telecoms will by ending roaming surcharges for mobile services abroad, better coordinating radio spectrum allocation, protecting the neutrality of the internet (although granting higher discretionary power to internet service providers) and raising consumer protection.

In April, the European Parliament approved the reforms with a few amendments, especially aimed at increasing protection of net neutrality.

On 1 July, web browsing costs were halved and calling costs were cut by a quarter.

>> Read: Commission cuts mobile roaming charge: one step closer to abolishment

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