RA takes aim at roaming charges
Cellphone roaming and roaming charges came under the spotlight yesterday when Phillip Micallef, the chief executive of the Regulatory Authority (RA), which oversees electronic communications, said the organisation is studying other regulatory models including Canada’s and may implement at least part of it in Bermuda.
He made the comments after a lunch time presentation for Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), at Ernst & Young’s offices.
He said Canada has brought in a new Wireless Code, which “will ensure that extra roaming charges will be capped to prevent bill shock”, and will be applied to new contracts for cellphones and other personal mobile devices at the end of 2013, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Roaming is one of the areas covered by the regulatory authority. It does not establish or set rates, but the Wireless Code does fall under the body.
Mr Micallef said: “We will also explore whether Bermuda, as an overseas British Territory, could via the British Regulator OFCOM somehow get involved in the EU framework on agreement.
“Many non-EU members like Switzerland and Norway, despite their close relationship with the EU, have not managed to form part of this roaming framework.”
Mr Micallef said no single jurisdiction can do much about roaming in isolation. “Roaming involves two carriers, one of which is always a foreign one, over which the RA has no jurisdiction.
“The only area where something was done about roaming is the EU, where the EU Commission mandated to its 27 member states the roaming rates over a number of years both for both voice and data.
“The end game is that roaming rates will eventually be same as local rates.
“This has been a process which I was heavily involved as executive chairman of the Regulatory Authority in Malta,” he said.
The chief executive of the authority explained that roaming involves an agreement or contract between a local carrier and one or more foreign carriers and the size of the local carrier usually limits its bargaining power when it comes to negotiating rates.
“Having said this, the RA recognises the issue and will in next year's work plan include roaming and start off with an educational campaign on roaming as has been done in Canada.
“The CRTC, the Canadian RA on the subject, could be applied locally.”
Mr Micallef also said that locked cell phones may become a thing of the past.
“By the end of summer we will issue a consultation on the subject in which we will solicit feedback especially from end-users.
“Competition is at its very best when an end user can switch from one carrier to another without unnecessary hassles or inconveniences.
“The fundamental principle should be to encourage competition among multiple vendors. Customers should be able to use any SIM card in any phone. On the other hand, the viewpoints of carriers who have invested heavily in offering phones at discount to customers in exchange for a contract to pay for the use of the network for a specified time period must also be considered.
“The right to unlock a cellphone, even in certain cases by paying a fee, should be considered.
“The conditions under which a cellphone may be unlocked depend on whether the cellphone was subsidised or not.”
Mr Micallef said: “As can be seen ... a great deal of customer education still needs to be done and hopefully the upcoming consultation on unlocking of cellphones will help.
“Another consultation in the pipeline is e-mail portability where a customer can change his or her ISP yet get all his or her e-mails with his or her old e-mail addresses forwarded to his or her new e-mail address at no charge, for say six months, and then the customer pays a fee if he or she wants to keep getting forwarded e-mails from his/her old address.”