Serentschy warns of high telephone bills after vacations abroad: Mobile data services can be costly

Press release dated 27 June 2008

"Lately, RTR's conciliation body has received a large number of complaints about high telephone bills from using mobile Internet services abroad or near Austria's borders. Especially on vacation, people are bound to use the normal functions on their cell phones or data cards to check their e-mail or surf the Web. When they return home, their telephone bills often make for an unpleasant surprise," notes Georg Serentschy, managing director of RTR's Telecommunications Division.

Warning: Roaming charges apply to Internet usage abroad

When used abroad, mobile Internet services such as those available on mobile phones (or data cards for laptops) are subject to roaming charges. The rates or rate packages which often include a certain data transfer volume in the user's home country are generally not applicable to mobile Internet services abroad.

"Mobile Internet services are generally subject to different rates abroad. As there are no limits on the cost of Internet services within or outside the European Union, the charges are often painfully high. Before going on vacation, people are therefore advised people to check with their providers to find out what charges apply to Internet usage abroad," notes Serentschy. "Some operators offer limited-term rate packages for people planning to travel abroad. There are also viable alternatives to mobile Internet, such as wireless services at hotels or hot spots."

Eurotariff applies only to voice calls within the European Union

The "Eurotariff," which all mobile operators were required to introduce last year, applies exclusively to telephone calls (voice calls) within the European Union and (since December 2007) Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. There are no legally defined limits on charges for text messaging (SMS), MMS or mobile Internet services.

The Eurotariff currently provides for a maximum of 59 euro cents per minute for outgoing calls and 29 euro cents for incoming calls (including VAT). From August 30, 2008 onward, the Eurotariff will be reduced to 55.2 euro cents for outgoing calls and 26.4 euro cents for incoming calls (including VAT). Consumers should also look into whether their service is subject to the Eurotariff scheme or a different roaming rate (known as a "specific roaming tariff").

Information requirement for all mobile service providers: Push SMS service

Since September 30, 2007, mobile service providers have also been required to send their customers a text message informing them that roaming charges will be incurred for incoming and outgoing calls as soon as customers arrive in an EU Member State. In December 2007, this requirement was also extended to Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. This required "push" text message must be free of charge and must include information on prices within the customer's rate package for incoming calls and for outgoing calls within the country visited and to the customer's home country. "If you travel to Slovenia, for example, your operator is required to send you a text message immediately after you start roaming in a foreign network. In this way, people know how much it will cost to make calls within Slovenia and to Austria," Serentschy explains.

The text message from the mobile operator also has to contain a toll-free telephone number which people can call to obtain more specific information on roaming charges. "As experience has shown that domestic mobile operators often fail to meet this requirement properly, we offer a service through which consumers can report violations of the information requirement by e-mail. In cases where we receive frequent complaints about a certain operator, we will advise the operator and make use of the legal instruments at our disposal to enforce the EU Roaming Regulation," Serentschy announced.

The Roaming Regulation does not apply outside the European Union and Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland; in other geographical areas, service providers are not required to offer specific rates or to send push text messages upon the customer's arrival in a foreign country.

For more information on the Eurotariff, please refer to the relevant section on the RTR web site.