Interview: The head of Luxembourg’s telecom regulator says roaming charges will soon, finally, be dead… sort of.
Viviane Reding first proposed capping mobile roaming charges back in 2006, and in the decade since the cost of using your phone in another EU country has come down by more than half. By December this year they will nominally disappear entirely, something for Luxembourg’s former European commissioner and current MEP to phone home about. But Paul Schuh, director of the Grand Duchy’s telecom regulator, the Institut luxembourgeois de régulation, warns the charges could partially re-emerge under a different name.
“It will not be ‘roaming’ but ‘mobile termination rates’ or something like that,” he reckons. Mobile termination fees are how telecom operators reimburse each other for completing calls between their customers. And those “costs are remaining.” Schuh cannot estimate the potential savings the EU rules will bring to Luxembourg customers because much of his data is confidential. He also notes that the new rules only apply within the European Free Trade Association (“except Switzerland; they have other tariffs”).
The ILR sees lots of cases where travelers have returned from popular vacation spots like Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey with steep bills. The biggest? “Around €10,000.” The main problem, he explains, are apps--particularly apps that use geolocalisation--that run automatically unless users change their settings. “Even the weather forecast is very dangerous if you’re abroad.”
In such cases, the ILR’s mediation service--which is staffed by lawyers--tries to reach a deal with the carriers. Schuh cannot discuss the specifics of any one case, due to privacy laws, but “mostly we find an arrangement,” he says. “We speak to the operators because some operators do not have good” customer service. “When you buy now a smartphone, you have to be informed what this smartphone is able to do without any intervention on your side,” and this does not always happen, according to Schuh.
The ILR’s offices are right off the Knuedler and when the 68 year old retires at the end of April, he will miss popping out to the farmer’s market at lunchtime on Wednesdays. Brushing off suggestions of moving into consulting work, Schuh says he plans to, paraphrasing Voltaire, “cultiver mon jardin.”