No more concern about roaming surcharges causing bill shock from mid-June

Published: 6 June 2017

As of 15 June, no surcharge will apply when making and receiving calls, sending SMS or using the internet on mobile phones across the European Union. As school summer vacation is about to start, operators may only impose EU roaming surcharges in addition to domestic charges in specific cases. The National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) continues to pay special attention to monitoring operators’ practices of imposing roaming surcharges.

Phone freedom across the EU almost for all

Most users will see the roaming surcharges, which have caused them so much concern in the past, abolished, and they do not need to take any steps for this. The reduction of roaming charges has been an on-going process for years, and, as a final step, from 15 June all phone operators will be required to provide their services for prices equivalent to their domestic charges to users travelling abroad for a short time within the European Union. Consequently, the same tariffs will apply to calls, text messages and internet use abroad as at home. The changes also affect tourists travelling abroad, people temporarily working or studying abroad and cross-border commuters. These favourable conditions apply to everyone, i.e. both pre-paid and post-paid customers.

In order to prevent roaming abuse, on the basis of the “Roam like at home” principle, services related to mobile telephony will only be available for use under domestic conditions during short stays abroad. Accordingly, subscribers may make voice calls with the duration and send the number of text messages (SMS) specified in their domestic tariff plans within the European Economic Area, i.e. the Member States of the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. These rules, however, do not apply to other countries, including Hungary’s neighbours Ukraine and Serbia, as well as some Western European countries, including the non-EU member Switzerland.

Three restrictions: possible data traffic limits, restrictions on the duration of stay abroad and the roaming validity of special plans

The Regulation may only impose a limit on data use: domestic data quotas may also be used while roaming, but operators have the option to impose a limit on data roaming even if they offer unlimited data traffic domestically. In such cases, users should check the terms and conditions of their tariff plans.

The new legislation introduces the notion of fair use. The new conditions only apply to subscribers who are resident in the Member State of their operator (i.e. Hungary for Hungarian operators), habitually live there and only make shorter visits to other EU Member States (for example, vacations or business trips). Operators shall lay down the terms of fair use in their General Terms and Conditions (GTC). If, based on the aggregate data of at least four months, it can be clearly determined that a subscriber does not habitually reside in Hungary or typically uses the service abroad, the service provider will first inform the subscriber of this discrepancy. Following said notice, the subscriber has at least two weeks to change his/her consumer habits or territorial presence in order to fulfil the contractual conditions. Failing to do so may result in the operator imposing surcharges on roaming from the day of the notice. The surcharge that may imposed is set in EUR and corresponds to the charges applied prior to 15 June: approx. HUF 20 per minute for calls, HUF 8 per SMS and HUF 18 per MB for data use.

Operators also offer alternative tariff plans not subject to general rules, including the Roaming Regulation. Such services, however, may only be used with the express consent of the subscribers and under a separate contract. For alternative tariff plans, it is worth checking roaming charges.

It should also be considered whether a subscription includes different prices for calls made within the network and outside the network (e.g. free calls within a fleet). Operators will be required to use the charging method that otherwise applies to their roaming subscribers when making calls outside their network at home.

Roaming bills cut for 2.4 million users from mid-June

Based on figures for the last three years, approx. 30% of Hungary’s population aged 14 and over, i.e. 2.4 million people, has been subject to roaming rules, meaning that they have been abroad. Only two-thirds of them used their mobile phones, the rest chose not to, probably due to higher costs they had experienced in the past. Previously, one-third of subscribers using their mobile phones abroad bought some type of roaming plan when travelling, but this will no longer be required within the European Union. The Hungarian population may see many benefits from the changes concerning roaming: statistics for the last eight years show that there have been only four countries, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, where the number of retail roaming calls have seen a more significant growth. In Hungary, this call traffic has increased to four and a half times its volume in 2008.

The NMHH will continue to monitor and control the operators’ practices and market activities; its annual monitoring and control plans cover roaming as well. Experience shows that operators have complied with the requirements to reduce their roaming charges so far.

Important: EU roaming is not the same as international calls!

It is important to distinguish roaming from international calls. While an international call can be defined as someone calling an international number from a Hungarian network, roaming means that a call is made or an SMS is sent from a foreign network to Hungary or another EU Member State.

For instance, you make an international call when you call your French relatives living in Paris from Hungary, while roaming is, for example, when you call your friends in Hungary or Romania during your holiday in Paris.

Thus, the new rules only apply to EU roaming; the charges and terms applicable to international calls and calls to non-EU countries will continue to be set by the operators at their own discretion. Before making such calls, it is worth checking the specific charges imposed by the operator.