The European Union finally reached a deal that will see the end of roaming charges in June 2017, as well as enshrining net neutrality rules.
A compromise was agreed between the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of the EU, following sometimes fraught negotiation.
The measures will be delivered via an overhaul of EU telecoms rules in 2016, which will also include proposals to more effectively co-ordinate spectrum across the EU.
“Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a Digital Single Market,” said Andrus Ansip (pictured), commission vice-president for the digital single market.
Over past months, Ansip has not always seemed so positive. Back in March, he described a compromise proposal from the Council on roaming as “a joke”. Now the sides have found common ground.
Under the agreement, roaming charges will cease in the EU as of 15 June 2017. Consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are in the EU.
However, there will be rules to prevent abuses of the new set-up. For example, if a user buys SIM card in another EU country where domestic prices are lower and then uses it at home. Or if a user permanently stays abroad with a domestic subscription from their home country. These instances are “permanent roaming” and could impact domestic markets negatively, said the commission.
Hence, the compromise includes a fair-usage safeguard against permanent roaming. Once a limit is reached when a user is abroad then operators can charge them a small fee. However, this fee will be much lower than current capped roaming charges. The commission will define what is the fair use limit.
In the meantime, this summer’s retail roaming caps will stay the same as they have been since 1 July 2014. From April 2016, roaming will cost less as operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices of up to €0.05 per minute on calls, €0.02 per SMS, and €0.05 per MB of data (excluding tax). This maximum roaming charge is about 75 per cent cheaper than current roaming caps for calls and data, the commission said.
The agreement also enshrines net neutrality into EU law for the first time. Users will be free to access the internet, without being unfairly blocked or slowed down, and paid prioritisation is not allowed.
However, there are exceptions. The commission listed four: the blocking of illegal content; preventing the misuse of networks, for instance viruses, malware or denial of service attacks; filtering spam or allowing parental controls; and finally to minimise network congestion that is “temporary or exceptional”.
The latter exception is worded so an operator cannot invoke “if their network is frequently congested due to under-investment and capacity scarcity”.
The GSMA responded to the deal being reached. “The GSMA appreciates the efforts of the Council of the European Union and European Parliament in concluding the Connected Continent legislation”.
“The clarity resulting from the agreement reduces the regulatory uncertainty for telecommunications companies operating in Europe,” said Afke Schaart, VP Europe, GSMA.
“However, we believe the rules agreed today are not sufficient to help Europe address the region’s growth and competitiveness challenges. To realise the vision laid down in the Digital Single Market Strategy, much more needs to be done.”