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ITU to tackle global data roaming rip-off


The ITU says it has agreed on measures to reduce unexpected and excessive data charges when roaming. For example, South African’s now have to pay anything between R100 and R140 per Megabyte when travelling abroad.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says its members have agreed on measures to reduce ‚’bill-shock’ whereby consumers are faced with unexpected and excessive charges for mobile roaming. For consumers, international data roaming costs have always been seen as a great rip-off. South Africans traveling abroad typically have to pay between R100 and R140 per Megabyte of data used on their contract phone account. The ITU says its members 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.

ITU Secretary General Hamadoun I. Tour√© said, ‚”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.‚”

International roaming is by nature a multi-country issue, and unified action from the international community is therefore the only means to address ‚”bill-shock‚”. The issues involved and their degree vary from region to region (and also within regions), in terms of economics, market structures and regulatory frameworks. As there is no guarantee that unilateral action by one country’s national regulatory authority will lead to reciprocal action in other countries, cooperation between regulators and policy makers either bilaterally or multilaterally is likely to be more effective than unilateral action by any one national regulatory authority.

Additional measures in Recommendation ITU-T D.98 include advocating the use of services that enable substitutes such as different SIM cards (an example is the use of global virtual mobile network operator cards), dual-SIM handsets, or the rental of a second handset. Member States are also encouraged to investigate the provision of international mobile roaming services by other means, for example by the take-up of new technologies so as to increase user choice.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai this December 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.

Proponents believe that regulations to ensure transparency of end-user prices for international mobile services, and for users to promptly receive full information when crossing a national border would lead to greater competition with potential benefits for consumers. Another proposal would ensure that prices are based on either the actual costs incurred by the service provider, or comparable to the prices charged in the user’s home country, or to those charged to customers in the visited country.

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