Thursday, January 23, 2020

Roam Like at Home is a regression for Romania

On June 15th 2017 the EU launched "Roam Like at Home", a set of rules that removed roaming charges. It was a great idea to harmonise telecom infrastructure and remove another invisible border separating people within the EU.

Romania was hit particularly bad by these rules. They introduced new borders where before there were none.

Previously, roaming was available to any telecom user either on a subscription plan or on a pre-paid card in Romania. The only limitation was that, rarely, the operator might ask for a warranty (say, 100 euro) so you don't rack up too many fees while abroad.

Internet and mobile services are particularly cheap in Romania and fast. We used to be ranked on the 5th place world wide based on internet speed alone.

So, by having such cheap prices a problem for Romanian telecom operators was that this might encourage abuse from Romanians going abroad and downloading too much, or by other EU people buying Romanian SIM cards to use instead of their expensive national SIM cards.

In order to contain this potential problem the EU was flexible with the "Roam Like at Home" rules and allowed a "fair use policy".

But the biggest blow was that the EU allowed contracts without roaming services. Guess what all Romanian telecom operators started rolling out immediately? They removed roaming from all the subscription plans under a price they considered acceptable!

A reasonable, entry-level, subscription plan that would have had roaming before 2017 suddenly became useless when crossing the border.

Note that without roaming nothing works! You have no data but no calls or SMS either. You are stranded with a non-functioning telephone in another EU country. This was an "interesting" experience for Romanian tourists early 2018. All they could call is 112.

Getting roaming temporarily on a subscription plan is just not possible anymore. Either you upgrade the whole plan to a more expensive one, forever, or you have no phone abroad.

A pre-paid card has more advantages. You can activate a more expensive roaming plan at any time, but you are still penalised by losing all the benefits you had until then, regardless how much the 'national' plan costed or how much you used from it.

In conclusion Roam like at Home reduced the quality of the telecom offer in Romania and introduced a quite visible border separating Romanians from the rest of the EU. One cannot imagine under what scenario the concept of 'roaming services' for SIM cards sold within the EU to EU citizens should even exist.

Another change that this measure did introduce in Romania is a bigger churn on SIM cards and operators. If Romanians manage to separate their identity from the SIM number and the operator is just a dumb carrier then it will not have been all for nothing.

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