Phone Carriers May Police Roaming in EU Plan to Cut Mobile Bills

  • European Commission proposes new fair use limits on roaming
  • Carriers seek limits to avoid being undercut by foreign rivals

Mobile phone operators would be able to check and charge people they suspect of excessively using new reduced roaming rates under proposed European Union rules announced Wednesday.

New safeguards would prevent abuse when people buy mobile services from one country and use them mainly abroad, the EU said in a statement.

Under the measures, the EU would ban telecommunications providers charging premiums for roaming from June 1. Calling, sending text messages and using mobile data abroad should cost users the same as in their home country.

Operators would be able to check usage patterns and act when they see people using their phone mostly abroad and could then apply small surcharges, the EU said. The rules aim to protect companies against abuse, the EU’s vice president for digital issues, Andrus Ansip, said at a press conference in Brussels.

"We had to put clear safeguards" to prevent the purchase of mobile-phone SIM cards in countries where costs are low and reselling them in higher-priced nations, Ansip said. This could see companies forced to make a loss when retail rates charged to customers are lower than wholesale roaming rates paid by one operator to another.

An outcry over a previous 90-day limit for how long people could use their phone abroad at reduced rates forced the European Commission to withdraw an earlier proposal earlier this month. Ansip said regulators had abandoned the concept of a cap on daily use or data volumes.

Phone companies had pushed for limits, saying wide differences in prices across the EU could force them to make a loss if people bought phone services from a provider elsewhere. Operators now have the ability to "take immediate and proportionate measures" against the mass purchase and resale of SIM cards for permanent use outside of the country where they are issued, the EU said.

Telecommunications regulators can give their views on the new terms before the commission makes them law.