THE NORTHERN IRELAND Assembly’s committee on communications has agreed to contact its Oireachtas counterpart to investigate whether roaming can be abolished within the island of Ireland.
The Assembly committee will look to work with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications and Transport to investigate whether coordinated legal moves can be brought about to abolish the charges within Ireland.
The contact comes on foot of a report by British telecoms regulator Ofcom, which found that Northern Irish mobile customers living in the border region can pay up to £300 a year in accidental roaming charges.
“It is unacceptable that companies such as O2, Vodafone and 3, which operate across the island of Ireland, continue to impose unacceptable roaming charges on unsuspecting consumers,” said Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan, the committee’s deputy chairman, who added:
These excess premiums imposed by the same parent company is pure and simple profiteering as there is no additional operating costs incurred by the companies.
It is likely that any action in the short-term would focus on the four network operators in Ireland – Vodafone, O2, Meteor and Three – and seek to prohibit those companies from levying roaming charges when customers travel into Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly does not have power in the field of telecommunications – with competence in that area being reserved by Westminster – so any attempt to block UK networks from levying roaming charges within the Republic would be a matter for the government in London.
Flanagan said any co-operation between the Assembly and Oireachtas committees would “exert greater pressure on the operators to remove all roaming charges, deliver a fair deal to consumers in Ireland and improve coverage in rural and border areas”.
“It is time that the operators stopped ripping consumers off,” he said.
Separate rules being pursued by the European Commission will mean that from next year, mobile customers will be able to change their domestic mobile provider for the purposes of roaming – effectively allowing them to take out separate mobile subscriptions for domestic and foreign services.
Rules already in place limit the price of a voice call to 29c per minute while on roaming, with text messages costing a maximum of 9c each.
Last summer, for the first time, the EU also brought in a limit on prices for data downloads while abroad – with a cap of 70c per megabyte of data downloaded.