The EU boasts
about having reduced your roaming charges. Europhiles market this like a
crowning achievement. While it is clearly patronising to believe people would
give up on our status as a nation state in exchange for cheaper phone calls,
this is in any case an example of the EU taking credit for a global initiative.
Once again the EU, and our obsession with it, obscures the international stage
from view. It’s that naval gazing mindset at work.
Why is that Safaricom are doing exactly
the same thing, almost a year ahead of the EU, and China is following
suit along with the Gulf
States? It’s because this is a global convention being put into practice, driven
by global bodies such the OECD and ITU.
It could and should have happened a lot sooner but for the delays introduced by the
if there is any single group that can take the credit for forcing changes, it
is an obscure organisation that calls itself the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG).
Founded in 1974, a year after the UK joined the then EEC, it is an
international association of business users of telecommunications with members
and contacts in all five continents and thus claims a global presence.
The trigger for the initiative that the EU claims as its own was in fact a 1999
report by INTUG Europe. It sought to investigate the tariffs used for
international GSM roaming within the EU, comparing them with conventional
international telephone calls. Its aim was to make users aware of the cost of
international mobile telephones.
In turn, this triggered an investigation by the European Commission, DG
competition, which reported in December 2000. At this stage, though, the EU
intervention was distinctly weak, arguing mainly for improved transparency,
with the publication of charges by operators in order to increase public
pressure for change.
By then, INTUG has also involved the OECD,
making a presentation to its Working Party on Telecommunication and Information
Service Policies. "In its early days a little overpricing or cross-subsidy
was acceptable while operators were becoming established", it said, then
declaring: "That has long since ceased to be acceptable. Users will not
tolerate it and will do whatever is necessary to bring to an end the existing
oligopolies and market structures".
Interestingly, in July
2000, even the BBC had acknowledged the role of INTUG, reporting that the
 Intug report had "prompted the EU to look into roaming
charges". The then state of the art can be seen from this
By 2004, things were warming up,
with the European Regulators Group (ERG), made up from EU member state
regulators, sending a questionnaire to all network operators asking them to
detail their roaming charges.
By 2007, though, EU action was still painfully slow, with regulations calling
for price transparency and setting up maximum tariffs for wholesale prices. Two
years later, we then see a
major report from the OECD, finding that roaming rates were
"excessive" when compared to the underlying wholesale costs of
providing the roaming service or the retail price of a domestic mobile call
plus an international call from the fixed network.
Then, a year later in 2010, the OECD published its policy
recommendations, which put the move to reduce roaming charges on a truly
international footing, also pulling in the WTO as part of a globally
By 2008, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) had become involved,
report comprising a "Regulatory analysis of international mobile
roaming services". To this day, the ITU remains a major player, with its Let's
roam the world initiative.
effectively it was all over, with the OECD invoking WTO provisions, stating
that "international mobile roaming services are believed to fall under the
scope of these provisions" and "more clearly so under section 5 a) of
the Annex on Telecommunications".
EU or no, the writing was on the wall. We saw in 2013, India committing
to removing roaming charges. African countries followed,
America. ASEAN members
are set to do likewise. In the United
States and the
Caribbean, things are also moving in the right direction.
As for the EU, it has been slow to the point of hesitant, its actions marked
down as unambitious.
Its claim to be looking after consumer interests is hollow, representing
nothing more than them taking credit for an unstoppable movement that was going
to happen anyway.
In this case,
as in many others, the EU is a redundant middleman that slows down global
progress - and it even has the nerve to even take credit for such achievements.