ITU members agree to deal with ‘bill shock’ resulting from mobile roaming charges

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) says its members have agreed to work to address the high incidence of roaming charges for mobile phone users around the world.

According to the ITU, its members both from the public and private sectors have agreed on measures to reduce ‘bill-shock’, a situation where consumers are faced with unexpected and excessive charges for using their mobile phones outside their countries.

It said they have approved a number of measures to empower consumers and encourage operators to lower tariffs.

“These measures (Recommendation ITU-T D.98) will represent the first truly international agreement taking steps towards lowering roaming costs,” it said.

One of the recommendations is on transparency. It recommends to 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, for example by making information on international mobile services clearer and more transparent, and by making it easier for consumers to choose a network abroad that offers the best value.

Additionally, it said, alerts should be sent to consumers as they approach a certain cost limit for roaming, with a block placed on further usage unless authorized by the user.

It also advocated market-based solutions, including cultivating regional cooperation among operators and regulators, and encouraging them to reach agreements on lowering wholesale roaming tariffs as well as regulatory measures, such as placing caps on prices charged to consumers for mobile roaming.

“ITU Member States agree on the need for international action on roaming charges, and this agreement is a clear indication of a willingness to address the issue for the good of both consumers and the global trade. I believe operators will see benefits 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,” ITU Secretary General Hamadoun I. Touré said.

There are about six billion mobile phone subscribers around the world, and it is possible for a subscriber who travels across borders or far afield to other countries of the world to receive and make calls on his or her phone without having to get a local provider’s SIM card. But the cost is high. The subscriber is charged both ways by the local network he or she is connected to and by the provider in the subscriber’s home country.

According to the ITU, when using a mobile phone or computer abroad, customers are generally connecting to a patchwork of national networks that are pieced together in partnerships among providers of mobile phone services in different countries. But the prices of these international connections (especially for data transmission) are usually much more than what is charged for the same service within a country, and some studies suggest they are higher than the actual costs involved.

The upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai in December 2012, will consider proposals on international mobile roaming for inclusion in the global treaty on international telecommunications. This treaty known as the “International Telecommunication Regulations” (ITRs) 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 said.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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