Seanad debates

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)

I am replying to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. This question essentially deals with the cost of mobile phones on the island of Ireland and across the EU.

The telecommunications industry in Ireland is a fully liberalised private sector industry, overseen by an independent regulator ComReg. ComReg acts in accordance with a European regulatory framework. In 2007 an EU regulation was introduced to place a ceiling on the wholesale and retail prices that could be charged for roaming calls. Measures were also introduced for the provision of transparent information on charges for those making roaming calls. Ireland strongly supported the introduction of this regulation and specifically raised the importance of roaming at the 2006 spring Council of EU leaders.

One of the key factors necessitating regulation of roaming within the EU was that exorbitant prices were being charged by some European operators. As this was essentially a cross-border service, involving the networks of the home and visited country, it was difficult for domestic regulators to do much about it, particularly if the bulk of the costs were being incurred by charges imposed by the operator in the visited country. ComReg is responsible for ensuring that Irish operators are compliant with this EU regulation.

The European Commission proposes to extend the regulation to apply to SMS text messages at the wholesale and retail level and also to regulate data other than SMS at the wholesale level. Ireland has supported this initiative by the Commission to enhance consumer protection. The Commission also proposes that mechanisms be put in place to warn people in advance of them getting large bills for using the web while roaming. Again Ireland strongly supports this initiative. The regulation is co-decision based, requiring the agreement of the member states in the European Council and the consent of the European Parliament. It is anticipated that negotiations may be complete before the upcoming European Parliament elections.

There is a cost to the visited and host operator associated with roaming. This is essentially the cost incurred in conveying the call, text or Internet data over the networks of the home operator and the visited country. It is therefore the aim at EU level to ensure that operators get a fair price and European consumers get a fair deal. We need to acknowledge that much progress has been achieved with consumers all over Europe enjoying lower roaming charges.

The price set in the roaming regulation is not fixed. The price of any roaming call is allowed to vary but cannot exceed a price ceiling. Ireland specifically ensured that this principle went into the regulation in order to protect our even lower roaming charges on this island and between Ireland and the UK, which were voluntarily introduced ahead of the EU regulation by operators on the island following pressure from Ministers North and South. Customers can still opt for individual roaming packages offered by their operator.

As I said earlier ComReg has responsibility for enforcing the roaming regulation. It also provides information on its website www.callcosts.ie that allows users to compare mobile phone costs. In addition ComReg has also published information on its website on the compliance of operators with the existing regulations. Information published by ComReg in this quarter indicates that Irish retail roaming prices for calls made and received are in compliance with the regulatory price ceiling of 46 cent and 22 cent respectively excluding VAT. I again thank the Senator for raising this matter.

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