Minister bashes mobile firms’ ‘unrealistic’ claims

Sweden's mobile phone operators may face tougher regulations if they don't improve network coverage and provide customers with more accurate information, IT and Energy Minister Anna-Karin Hatt warned on Wednesday.

Minister bashes mobile firms' 'unrealistic' claims

Speaking at a conference organized by the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (Post- och telestyrelsen, PTS), Hatt said the government would introduce tougher laws if mobile operators didn’t act on their own accord.

“Let me be absolutely clear with you. It’s not okay that Swedish mobile customers don’t get what they have a right to expect. This has to change. There has to be an end to unrealistic promises. There must be an end to mobile coverage maps that don’t have any connection to what people experience in reality,” the minister said.

Hatt explained that she personally thinks new laws are the best way to ensure changes in how mobile phone operators behave.

“The truth is that if you aren’t significantly better at living up to your customers’ expectations, if we can’t see a solution on the horizon to these problems, it’s long from certain that we’ll be able to avoid [new legislation],” she said.

According to the minister, mobile operators should be prepared to make large investments in their networks so that they provide adequate coverage and can handle increased usage.

On Tuesday, Hatt found herself in the firing line during a debate in the Riksdag with opposition lawmakers accusing her of being passive in the face of increasing numbers of consumer complaints about mobile phone service in Sweden.

The opposition Social Democrats have put forward a promise of tougher regulation for mobile phone operators should the party win the 2014 parliamentary elections.

When asked about the minister’s comments, a spokesman for mobile operator 3 (Tre) said there was no need to have legislation for network coverage.

“We welcome all initiatives to have more accurate maps,” he told the TT news agency.

“The minister is right that there are problems with network coverage maps, but there are already laws regulating that, such as the marketing act.”

He explained that the maps show a “theoretical” depiction of coverage, that can’t be guaranteed.

TT/The Local/dl

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Fresh debate for cheaper EU calls from Sweden

Swedish politicians welcomed a debate on mobile charges on Tuesday, after the EU's top decisionmaker on the digital market announced that roaming fees could be ditched across the union by 2017.

Fresh debate for cheaper EU calls from Sweden
Tourists using their mobile phones in Stockholm. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Mobile phone roaming is a hot topic in Sweden, as well as in the rest of the European Union, with holidaymakers complaining of hefty charges when they go abroad and foreign workers often forced to sign up to new domestic deals to avoid paying extra fees.

European Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger breathed new life into the long-running debate this week after he told reporters in Germany that he wanted to abolish the controversial fees within the next two years.

“From the second quarter of 2017, roaming fees in the EU will probably fall away,” he said.

Fredrick Federley, a Swedish MEP who is coordinator of the Liberal ALDE group on the industry committee and has long argued for roaming fees to be scrapped, cautiously welcomed the commissioner's comments.

“It's important that the commission pushes this issue as it's about creating opportunities for jobs and growth, but the problem is that the member states are holding back,” he told The Local on Tuesday.

Oettinger's announcement comes just over a month after the European Commission dropped plans to abolish roaming charges from 2016 after objections from telecoms companies in smaller member states.

But a new compromise had to be reached after consumers' organizations and the European Parliament protested vociferously.

“If the end of roaming comes in 2017, companies have a year longer compared with the old plans to conform to the new rules,” Oettinger said.

“And consumers will see yet more that they profit from the single market in telecoms. Roaming fees have already sunk a great deal.”

READ MORE: Anger as EU keeps mobile phone roaming fees

Oettinger believes that the EU must consolidate its telecoms market – pointing to the 280 companies across the union compared with four in the US.

“To become more competitive and consolidate their networks, many more companies will merge in the coming years,” he said.

“That should lead to the European telecoms industry playing a bigger role on the global stage. But competition has to be assured.”

And Swedish conservative MEP Gunnar Hökmark told The Local on Tuesday that he hoped the new deadline would set the stage for fixing the glitch in the system which means domestic carriers pay their counterparts in other countries wholesale charges for foreign mobile use by their customers.

“I hope that [by 2017] we will have laid the foundation for reasonable deals or coordination between European telecoms operators to remove extra costs between them, otherwise there's a risk that the cost is passed on to domestic calls,” he said, joining Oettinger in his calls for a pan-European telecoms market.

“The most important thing to me is structural reforms that give us coherent European networks where roaming is not needed at all. I will push such legislation to bring down the costs not just for calls but also for surfing, which is normally what is used by Swedish users.”