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ITU tackles roaming costs

ITU members agree there is a need for international action to be taken on exorbitant roaming costs.

In an international agreement that takes action to lower roaming costs, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) members – from private and public sectors – have approved measures aimed at combating high mobile roaming rates.

The ITU said on Friday it had initiated a number of measures to empower consumers and encourage operators to lower tariffs. In line with this, the ITU has called on governments and regulators to “explore ways to protect and empower consumers in determining their best choices among the array of options available to them in the rapidly evolving mobile marketplace”.

One of the measures, says the ITU, is that of making information on international mobile services clearer and more transparent. “In addition, alerts should be sent to consumers as they approach a certain cost limit for roaming, with a block placed on further usage unless authorised by the user,” says the body.

The ITU has advocated market-based solutions, including promoting regional cooperation among operators and regulators, and encouraging them to reach agreements on lowering wholesale roaming tariffs. “Possible regulatory measures are also recommended, such as placing caps on prices charged to consumers for mobile roaming.”

Essential intervention

Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU, says there is a need for international action to be taken on roaming charges – a fact the member states have all agreed on. “This agreement is a clear indication of a willingness to address the issue for the good of both consumers and the global trade.”

He says operators actually stand to benefit from this action in the long-term, as higher volumes of traffic are generated when it becomes more attractive for consumers to use their phones and mobile services while travelling.

“International roaming is by nature a multi-country issue, and unified action from the international community is, therefore, the only means to address 'bill-shock',” says Touré.

He concedes the issues involved – and their degree – vary from region to region (and also within regions), in terms of economics, market structures and regulatory frameworks. “As there is no guarantee that unilateral action by one country's national regulatory authority will lead to reciprocal action in other countries, cooperation between regulators and policy makers – either bilaterally or multilaterally – is likely to be more effective than unilateral action by any one national regulatory authority.”

Additional measures in the injunction (Recommendation ITU-T D.98) include the promotion of services that enable substitutes such as different SIM cards (for example, the use of global virtual mobile network operator cards), dual-SIM handsets, or the rental of a second handset.

“Member states are also encouraged to investigate the provision of international mobile roaming services by other means, for example by the take-up of new technologies so as to increase user choice.”

Imminent treaty

Proposals on international mobile roaming will be deliberated at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), which will be held in Dubai, in December. The ITU says considerations emerging from the session will be included in a global treaty on international telecommunications.

This treaty, known as the International Telecommunication Regulations, is up for review for the first time since 1988 – long before the explosion of mobile communications – to take into account the vastly altered telecommunications environment.

The ITU says supporters of the treaty believe that regulations to ensure transparency of end-user prices for international mobile services, and for users to promptly receive full information when crossing a national border, would lead to greater competition with potential benefits for consumers.

“Another proposal would ensure that prices are based on either the actual costs incurred by the service provider, or comparable to the prices charged in the user's home country, or to those charged to customers in the visited country.”


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