The Competition Council of Latvia (the CC) concluded, that separate mobile operators, while implementing the EU "roam like at home" rules last year, have promoted only those tariff plans that included the roaming services. The consumers, who are not travelling abroad, had only limited information available on possibilities of choosing cheaper tariffs, i.e., without roaming services, hereby obliging them to overpay for services which are not necessary for them.
On 15 June of the last year, additional fee for roaming in the EU was cancelled in the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), which was previously applied for calls, messages and data transmission if these services are not used in a permanent country of residence but in another EEA country. The new regulation was aimed to reduce expenses for consumers of using mobile roaming services. Shortly before this additional fee was cancelled, Latvian mobile operators publicly announced that prices will increase for tariff plans. Considering these similar activities, the CC initiated an investigation to establish whether such action was not related to prohibited agreement.
During the investigation the CC requested information, including financial data, and conducted negotiations with mobile operators about the studies and calculations that had been used in the pricing of the new tariff plans. Simultaneously with new regulation also consumer habits have changed, and customers abroad are increasingly using mobile communications services, confirmed by both publicly available data and information provided by operators. The operators substantiated the implemented changes as follows – although consumers are no longer required to pay extra for roaming, companies still have relatively high expenses to other national operators for the provision of services.
The parallel activities of operators can also be linked to an oligopoly market structure – since there are three major players in the market that provide similar services and their prices are publicly available, it is easy for operators to follow the activities of their competitors. In assessing the circumstances, the CC found that the method, how operators modelled scenarios of commercial strategy and the methods of calculating their prices have been different. If companies take decisions on price changes individually and without mutual coordination, it is not considered as an infringement.
In the context of the changes made last year, the CC received several complaints that citizens do not have the option to choose local tariff plans which do not include roaming services. During the study, the Authority observed that separate operators were promoting directly the most expensive, i.e. roaming-inclusive tariff plans, thus making it difficult to access information on cheaper services. Following the Authority's objection to such practices, mobile operators, that offer local tariffs without roaming services, committed themselves to change their behaviour and make the information on local tariff to be easier accessed.