French regulator says ending roaming charges will hurt operators

The French regulator, Arcep, has come out strongly against the government’s proposals to end roaming charges between mainland France and the country’s overseas territories.

The ruling, which is due to start at the beginning of May 2016, will threaten the viability of the mobile companies that operate those territories, which are legally part of France.

The regulator offered the government its opinion in September 2015 but has now gone public with the warning.

“Arcep believes that this new provision will destabilise overseas markets considerably. Accompanying measures for operators would be required to ensure that putting an end to the roaming fees billed to end users is economically viable,” says the regulator. 

There are 2.6 million people living in France’s overseas departments and territories, which are legally part of France and of the European Union. The areas include French Guiana in mainland South America, Guadeloupe in the Caribbean and Réunion in the southern Indian Ocean. 

The European Union itself is planning to abolish roaming charges for mobile calls between the 28 member states – again with a fair use limit. Operators have warned that customers will be able to subscribe in low-cost countries in the EU and be able to make calls from and to any other country, competing with local operators. 

The French regulator adds in its warning to the French government: “Before retail market roaming charges can be phased out, reforms must be brought to the wholesale roaming markets in which telcos purchase their roaming solutions.”

Arcep says that, if roaming charges are abolished, operators must be able to enforce fair-usage conditions. “If these conditions are not met, operators’ business models will be undermined, and operators in France’s overseas markets will be deprived of the resources they need to introduce superfast mobile services and to invest in 4G network rollouts.” 

The regulator warns: “If roaming is due to become a commodity for customers in Europe, the transition will still have an impact on operators’ business model.”