Telecom operators to provide free coverage for Ukrainian refugees

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

27 telecoms operators across Europe have signed an agreement to provide affordable or free roaming and international calls between the EU and Ukraine during the war.

Several EU-wide groups including Bouygues Telecom and Orange in France, Deutsche Telekom in Germany, Telefonica in Spain and 3 and Vodafone in the UK have signed the deal, organised by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, BEREC, and the Ukrainian national regulatory authority, NCEC.

More operators and mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) are expected to join alongside all three operators in Ukraine. After a number of spontaneous voluntary initiatives took place, the joint statement aims to establish a more stable framework to help Ukrainians displaced throughout Europe to stay in touch with family and friends back home.

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An estimated 4.2 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, in particular to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and communication is key. Several telecom operators have waived or reduce international call charges with Ukraine and roaming surcharges for displaced people in Europe.

Operators based in the EU have distributed millions of SIM cards free of charge to refugees from Ukraine. A large and increasing number of refugees using such SIM cards are also benefiting from free international calls to Ukraine. Some EU operators have also enabled free roaming and provided free WiFi and charging in border areas or shelters.

In parallel, Ukrainian operators, who keep the connectivity within Ukraine and with Ukraine functioning despite military aggression, have from the early days of this crisis ensured national roaming within the country and offered free international roaming to refugees who fled the war.

EU Member States can also use the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to provide refugees with access to essential services such as SIM cards.

“The possibility to have contact to those who are dear to us and access to information is a lifeline in times of crisis. This is why, together with the European Parliament, we are supporting the initiatives of telecom operators to facilitate affordable mobile connectivity for people who have fled the war. Also we encourage for more similar measures that can make a real difference in these extraordinary circumstances,” said Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age.   

“In this emergency situation many telecom operators have shown exceptional solidarity with the people fleeing Ukraine,” said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market. “This engagement will make it possible to have voluntary measures apply as widely as possible throughout Europe. People displaced across Europe will be able to phone home, and people in Ukraine will be able to phone loved ones abroad at affordable conditions.”

The joint statement has been signed by 24 operators based in EU, including the association representing several mobile virtual network operators (MVNO Europe).

The statement is open to all operators who wish to sign at any time and applies for three months.

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