The OECD has been undertaking work on international mobile roaming services during the last two years. Two reports have already been published, the first of which benchmarked retail and wholesale charges for voice roaming services and SMS. It found their price level was unreasonably high, particularly in view of the underlying costs, and conducted a preliminary analysis of options available to policy makers in order to lower prices and increase transparency for end-users. The second report provided a deeper understanding of these options and put forward a set of recommendations that could be implemented by governments, should it be necessary, after assessing the specific situation in a given country.
While these reports have addressed issues surrounding international mobile roaming services in general, they have not dealt with the specific issues of data roaming services. Though sharing many common aspects with voice and SMS roaming services, data roaming services have several specific characteristics, such as potentially closer substitutes (as a customer’s usual home number does not have to be transferred in order to provide full substitutability, especially for data-only services), and the possibility of delivering them over different end-user devices (notebooks, netbooks, tablets, smart-phones, and so forth).
This report primarily focuses on presenting the methodology and main findings of a pricing data collection exercise that covers data roaming services in the OECD area. It encompasses data roaming services with Internet access functionality, as well as pricing for incoming and outgoing Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS). Available data roaming prices for handset and laptop use have been collected, even though only handset-based prices have been used for comparison, except for one of the benchmarks.
The report addresses some specific issues related to regulatory approaches adopted for data roaming services. The available evidence on wholesale data roaming prices for the European Union is presented. This allows some consideration to be made on the adequacy, effectiveness and possible regulatory exit of the European Union’s Roaming Regulation. An ambitious requirement of this legal provision is the obligation for data roaming operators to implement the so called “cut-off limit”. It is a threshold that operators make available to consumers, beyond which the data roaming service ceases, if the customer does not explicitly accept its continuation. Bill-shock phenomena are a matter of concern for policy makers, especially for data roaming services. The implementation of this measure is one step towards protecting data roaming customers in a market where average prices are still not reasonably competitive.