European Union citizens will soon be able to use their mobile phones anywhere within the EU without surcharge as the European Commission and Parliament had agreed that roaming fees levied by network operators will soon be eliminated.
However, representatives of the EU’s member states in the Council of the EU, the bloc’s third decision-making body, wanted to wait until mid-2018.
On June 29th, council officials agreed on a compromise text with Parliament representatives, setting June 2017 as the date to end roaming charges. Despite the additional delay, the Commission welcomed the agreement.
While the abolition of roaming charges has widespread support, the text — part of a broader reform of telecommunications law — also includes provisions on net neutrality that are proving more controversial. The Netherlands has already said it will vote against the text because of these provisions, even though they are not yet fully defined.
Although travellers will have to wait two more years for the outright abolition of roaming fees, from next April rules already in place will set a limit for the difference between roaming fees and domestic call charges. Current rules put absolute caps on roaming costs of €0.19 (US$0.21) per minute for calls, €0.06 per text message and €0.20 per megabyte of data. From April, roaming surcharges will be limited to €0.05 per minute, €0.02 per text and €0.05 per megabyte relative to domestic costs.
Setting the rules in this way could have allowed people to choose the cheapest operator not just in their home country, but anywhere in Europe, and then spend all their time roaming. However, under the proposed rules agreed on Monday, providers will be allowed to prevent “abusive use of roaming,” including using roaming services for purposes other than periodic travel.
Meanwhile, national regulators will be able to grant exceptions to network operators on request. The exceptions are meant to take the sustainability of domestic charges and the level of national prices and revenues into account. This clause was designed for the Nordic states, which have very low retail prices, and is meant to avoid market distortion, Marietje Schaake, a Member of the European Parliament who attended the negotiations said in an email.
The latest proposal still needs formal approval from the EU member states and from the entire European Parliament before it can become law.