In a bid to save face after a wave of outrage, following a botched first attempt earlier this month, the European Commission proposed a new bill today (21 September) to get rid of mobile roaming charges by June 2017.
Andrus Ansip and Günther Oettinger defended the new bill, which will not limit the number of days that consumers can travel and still use their mobile phones without roaming charges. Telecoms companies can monitor consumers to make sure they don’t abuse their roaming rights.
But Ansip and Oettinger were up against a wall. Two weeks ago, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pulled a proposal that limited roaming without extra fees to 90 days (although telecoms operators would have been able to offer more generous packages), just days after Ansip and Oettinger published a joint statement praising the bill’s benefits for consumers.
Ansip and Oettinger argued at a press conference today that the new proposal is even better.
But differences between the two politicians were apparent. When asked whether the first proposal that limited roaming to 90 days was more efficient, Ansip replied “maybe”.
“It’s not as simple as the number of days, but it’s quite a good solution,” Ansip said.
Oettinger called the first proposal’s 90-day limit “hard to accept” for the tiny fraction of Europeans who spend more time abroad than that every year.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday ordered officials to draw up new plans for the EU’s landmark free mobile phone roaming policy after it ran into fierce criticism.
The European Commission has argued that the vast majority of Europeans only spend a few weeks traveling in other EU countries.
One Commission official said the new bill, which must still be approved by national governments before a 15 December deadline, was made especially generous to make up for the public backlash that followed the last proposal.
Consumer groups and MEPs already were quick to herald the executive’s new offer as a marked improvement.
Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, called it “very good news that time-limits on roaming have been dropped.”
Under the new proposal, telecoms companies can police consumers’ behaviour to make sure they don’t buy SIM cards in countries where they’re cheaper and then continue using them at home. Operators can warn consumers if their behaviour seems abusive of the roaming rights, and consumers can appeal to national regulators.
“We are looking for home or home-like presence” in an EU country, one Juncker Commission official said. The official said that because member states have varying requirements to prove residency, consumers will have different ways to show where they live if telecoms companies question their use of mobile services when they travel.
Telecoms will likely be up in arms over the new proposal: after the Commission pulled its last bill from the table, industry associations warned that extending roaming rights beyond 90 days could damage their business.
The new bill will allow companies to apply for an exception if they can prove that offering mobile services at no extra cost will result in at least a 5% loss of revenue.
Innocenzo Genna, vice president of the MVNO Europe Association, called that part of the proposal a “trap”. “That mechanism will just force some operators to raise the costs and prices,” Genna said.
The MVNO Europe Association represents smaller telecoms operators that don’t own radio spectrum.
“If you have to increase retail prices how can you compete in the market?,” Genna said.
Telecoms companies were as surprised as anyone when Jean-Claude Juncker announced Wednesday (14 September) that the European Commission wants every city and village in the EU to have free public Wi-Fi in some places by 2020.