EU and Western Balkan Operators Agree on Roaming Price Cap

EU and Western Balkan Operators Agree on Roaming Price Cap

Thirty-eight telecom operators from the EU and Western Balkan region have agreed to the specific price caps for the data roaming services between their countries. The maximum price for 1 GB of roaming data will be EUR 18.00 (US $19.73) starting in October 2023, dropped to EUR 14.00 (US $15.35) in 2026, and then finally dropping again to EUR 9.00 (US $9.87) in 2028.

Tarifica’s Take

This agreement follows the operators’ signing of a declaration in December 2022 to reduce mobile roaming prices for users travelling between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkan region. The stated goal is to encourage business, tourism and other exchanges between the EU and the Western Balkans.

On first viewing, it might not be clear why these telcos would voluntarily and collectively commit to reducing their own prices and fees for roaming. These represent a meaningful revenue stream for mobile carriers and one where there is far less competition than on the core plans.

Closer examination reveals that this change is likely not an independent business decision by these operators to maximize short-term revenue, and is instead an attempt to preempt future regulatory interventions. When the “roam like at home” ruling was implemented across the EU in 2017, European mobile operators lost out on a significant incremental revenue stream. Mobile carriers are loath to see this situation replicated with travel to and from the Western Balkans.

Given the amount of travel and tourism between the Western Balkans and the rest of Europe, and the fact that roaming fees are now rarely a part of the lives of consumers for travel elsewhere in the continent, it is likely that regulators would face some calls to extend these fee protections to these countries as well. The risk of regulatory action is further heightened by the fact that the countries of the Western Balkans are actively working to streamline relations with the EU. As the groups increasingly collaborate, it is easy to envision price caps or the elimination of roaming fees being an early action.

These announced price caps potentially preempt such scenarios. By lessening consumer frustration and demonstrating an ability to “regulate themselves,” mobile carriers in both the Western Balkans and the EU may be able to secure roaming fees as a continuing, if slightly lessened, revenue stream.