In expectation of fair roaming
Phone roaming charges to fall within Eurasian Economic Union
At present, Belarusian phone subscribers pay high rates for phone calls when travelling abroad: a one minute call to Belarus from Russia (depending on the mobile operator) costs at least Br21,000 (88 Russian Roubles). Affiliated companies operate across the three states, with simultaneous networks in Russia and Belarus (MTS), and Russia and Kazakhstan (Beeline). However, roaming tariffs are several times higher than the charge for ‘home’ calls.
Only around 25 percent of travellers buy local sim-cards while 40 percent switch to roaming: choosing the simplest, with no Internet access or special options (to keep costs down). Many only call home in cases of emergency. In fact, if tariffs were to be cut, it seems unlikely that operators would lose money, as the volume of calls would rise significantly, serving mutual interests. In the European Union, inter-state roaming has been lifted, resulting in more revenue for operators, due to the increased volume of services used.
The Acting Director of the Antimonopoly Regulation Department of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Alexander Kurilchik, explains, “Operators are expected to voluntarily reduce roaming fees over time, making them comparable with domestic charges, and unifying them across the Eurasian Economic Union. A project of fair roaming principles is ready, reflecting foreign experience and ensuring the economic feasibility of tariffs, while cutting expenditure and offering equal access to all subscribers.”
The plan to reduce roaming prices is to be co-ordinated with the Eurasian Economic Union’s mobile operators throughout this year, with tariffs reduced in stages. Full roaming ‘equality’ is unlikely to occur until about 2020, but antimonopoly bodies are ready to impose fines on mobile operators where unfair tariffs are levied.
In late 2014, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service asked operators to cut roaming prices to match those charged domestically for subscribers (i.e. a 3-5 fold reduction). Unsurprisingly, some operators are reluctant to comply, citing such reasons as rising foreign currency exchange rates. Nevertheless, the Eurasian Economic Union’s antimonopoly agencies aim to reduce tariffs, planning to gather representatives of EU states, Turkey and Egypt (popular tourist destinations, including for Belarusians) to discuss possible ways forward.
By Irina Sudas