Ofcom backs transparency in roaming debate

Roaming Rip-Offs: Ofcom says it 'shares some of the concerns' over the cost of mobile roaming

The debate over the cost of using 3G datacards while abroad is all about "transparency" according to MP Norman Lamb and regulator, Ofcom. Transparency, in this case, means that the consumer is fully aware of the likely cost using a datacard while abroad.

Lamb raised the issue of transparency on Monday when he accused the mobile operators of "taking advantage of consumer ignorance and lack of knowledge to keep prices up as much as they can". He called for "an investigation into why prices are so high".

Ofcom said in a statement to ZDNet that it "shares some of the concerns highlighted" by Lamb and said it saw the cost of 3G roaming "as an important issue". It will be "working closely with other regulators in Europe to make sure that consumers do get a good deal", the statement said.

Ofcom also highlighted the issue of transparency, saying that it "supports initiatives to increase consumer awareness and transparency of international roaming prices" and that it was actively involved in the European Regulators Group's work on "seeking ways of improving transparency in roaming tariffs".

Transparency is being seen as one of the principle concerns raised by the cost of roaming while abroad. Consumers can find it very difficult to get information on the real cost of roaming which is usually only on a website, often hard to find and for which they have to pay international rates to obtain while abroad.

Earlier this month, ZDNet UK exposed the high prices that are charged when people use 3G datacards abroad. One reader case in particular raised the issue of transparency when he found himself with an £800 bill after downloading less than 100MB of data in France and Germany. The reader maintained that it was not clear how much he was being charged and he received no notification at the time he was using the service. The only notification he had was when he received a bill three weeks later.

The EU is trying to address the issue of high prices for voice calls while roaming in Europe and has published a listing of sample charges from different operators, which highlights some of the inconsistencies across the continent.

But so far the EU has not dealt with the issue of data calls where there is a huge difference in cost. Transferring 1MB of data while roaming in Europe will, in general, cost around £10, although it can cost anything up to £20. The amount of data transferred in 1MB is the equivalent of a three minute phone call which will cost around £3 on European voice tariffs.