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'Free' EU roaming begins – but not for most Finnish mobile customers

New EU regulations preventing mobile operators from charging extra roaming charges to their customers came into effect on Thursday. But Finnish communications regulators have granted four Finnish operators the right to continue charging their customers for EU roaming for at least the next year.

File photo. Image: Ronnie Holmberg / Yle

Despite new regulations that purportedly eliminate EU mobile network roaming charges, FICORA, the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority, have granted four Finnish operators permission to charge their customers for the service.

The three firms that applied for – and were granted – permission to continue to charge roaming fees are: Telia, Elisa, DNA and Moi Mobiili. The firms requested permission to charge customers on grounds that removing the fees outright would hurt their businesses.

The EU regulation to eliminate mobile roaming fees for European customers was designed as a form of consumer protection against exorbitant fees, but mobile operators continue to charge each other for their customers' roaming, even after the regulation went into force.

Prices set

From Thursday onward, the fees that Telia, Elisa and Moi Mobiili are legally bound to pay foreign EU operators for Finnish customers' roaming are: 3.2 cents per minute for phone calls, one cent per SMS message and 7.70 euros per gigabyte of mobile data.

DNA requested a lower roaming data rate than the others, at 4.60 euros per gigabyte.

The new price limits are also the maximum amount the operators are allowed to charge customers during the one-year exemption, according to Petri Makkonen, a FICORA spokesperson.

Makkonen said the authority took into consideration that cutting roaming charges for consumers without doing the same for operators was unfair.

"The aim [of the decision to allow the charges] is to ensure that domestic mobile prices do not rise. Without these exceptions, the cost of a mobile network subscription could rise hugely, and could make it impossible for [Finnish] operators to continue offering their customers unlimited data," Makkonen said.

While the operators' exemption from shedding EU roaming charges is currently set to expire in a year, future exemptions from the regulation are still possible, Makkonen said.

"The possibility of [Finnish companies] being exempted from the free roaming regulations was because Finland demanded it [during negotiations with the EU]. The conditions in our market are different to that of the rest of Europe," Makkonen said, explaining that Finland's mobile prices are relatively low, with unlimited data.

Finns used to a lot of mobile data

This difference between Finland and the rest of Europe can likely be attributed to customers in Finland having gotten used to unlimited mobile data subscriptions.

Finnish mobile customers use more data than any other country in the world. According to a survey carried out last year, Finnish residents consume an average 7.2 gigabytes of mobile data every month. By comparison, the figure in second-place South Korea was 3.8 gigabytes.

The same study, carried out by telecoms competition specialist Tefficient, found that when compared to other EU countries, mobile data in Finland is relatively cheap, too.

However, Finnish operators have generally raised subscription rates in recent months prior to the EU roaming charge ban, but Makkonen says that apart the roaming fees, mobile operators are free to charge as they see fit.

He said that consumers should review which mobile operator best suits their needs and finances.

"It seems that some subscriptions are getting more expensive while others are becoming cheaper. Now is a good opportunity for consumers to check their current subscriptions to see what they are charged for roaming," Makkonen said.