Insights Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) publishes Opinion in relation to EU Commission’s review of intra-EU communications rules

Under Recital 53 of the Roaming Regulation (2022/612/EU), the EU Commission alongside BEREC must assess the effects of measures introduced by the BEREC Regulation (2018/1971/EU) on the intra-EU communications market and consider whether, and to what extent, the caps on charges to consumers for regulated intra-EU communications should be reduced to protect consumers.

BEREC has now published an Opinion to support the EU Commission’s assessment.

BEREC’s analysis shows that the BEREC Regulation supports the reduction of average revenue per unit for regulated intra-EU communication services for both mobile and fixed services. However, this reduction is not having a significant impact on regulated volumes consumed or on the number of consumers using these services. In addition, as the percentage of price regulated intra-EU services to total intra-EU services (for consumers only) has remained stable over time, it could be concluded that in general the BEREC Regulation does not have a significant impact on the consumption of intra-EU communication services.

According to feedback from national regulatory authorities (NRAs), no derogation applications have been received because there is a margin between the cost of provision of the services and the retail price caps. However, BEREC says, this could change if price caps are reduced, especially in the case of SMS services, which do not have regulated termination rates. Therefore, BEREC concludes that simplifying the derogation mechanism might be something to consider.

As for the availability of substitutes, it appears that end-users show a steadily increasing preference for free-of-charge number-independent interpersonal communication services (NI-ICS) that can be a substitute for intra-EU communications by means of voice and SMS. However, while the overall use of traditional voice and SMS communication services is declining, they are still popular among those aged 55 or above. One reason why consumers do not yet fully make use of appropriate NI-ICS as a substitute for intra-EU communications may be the interoperability of service providers. This issue is being addressed in relation to some service providers in the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which includes interoperability obligations for gatekeepers providing NI-ICS.

In addition, although the main difference between roaming and international communications is the network where the call or SMS is being initiated, the interplay between the current legal frameworks for roaming and for intra-EU communications can be confusing for consumers. While roaming within the EU/EEA, consumers can make calls and send SMS to any EEA country at domestic rates with no extra cost. However, on return to their home country, consumers pay more, usually the maximum price cap per minute for an intra-EU call or SMS. Therefore, BEREC says, the difference in pricing between intra-EU services and roaming services offered under the roaming regime should be made clearer.

From a cost perspective, according to the available data, current price caps are significantly higher than a rough estimate of the costs required to offer intra-EU calls. However, in the case of SMS, due to the lack of information about SMS termination rates, BEREC was unable to provide this analysis. Further, some operators raised the issue of high transit prices, which according to their feedback are in some cases higher than the retail price cap for intra-EU calls, posing a particular challenge for small providers. BEREC has identified this as an issue in the context of other cases (e.g. calls to Ukraine, for which there is some voluntary decrease of retail prices on behalf of some operators). The European Commission might need to investigate this issue further, as it seems to affect mostly smaller operators.

Finally, BEREC agrees that the drafting of Article 5a (4) needs to be adapted according to suggestions received in BEREC’s call for input. BEREC also agrees that the rules for switching between tariffs of the Roaming Regulation is more fit for purpose than those under the BEREC Regulation for intra-EU communications. To access BEREC’s Opinion, click here.