The elimination of roaming fees for using mobile phones EU countries could be delayed, in what would be a win for big European telecoms operators at the expense of consumers, according to a draft EU proposal.
Neelie Kroes, the outgoing EU telecoms commissioner, had made ending such charges a banner element in a proposal to overhaul the ailing telecoms sector, called Connected Continent.
As of July this year, web browsing costs were halved and calling costs were cut by a quarter, putting the EU one step closer to abolishing roaming fees completely.
And in April, EU lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to abolish roaming fees by 2016, marking the first step in the legislative process.
But a new draft of the text from Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the 28 nation European Council, makes no mention of the date proposed by parliament – 15 December 2015.
Though the draft is likely to be further revised. It suggests only a “glidepath”, or gradual reduction in roaming fees towards the goal of “roam like at home” (RLAH) – a time where someone using, say, a British mobile phone in Italy, will pay the same charges as if they were still in Britain.
“The legislative date for the initial introduction of RLAH, subject to transitional measures and fair use limits, needs to be defined and is a significant political question,” the draft document states.
Charges for roaming have been repeatedly cut by the European Commission, the EU’s executive, since 2007. Industry sources say ending roaming charges is not in doubt, it is just the timing. Removing a source of revenue prematurely would hinder operators’ ability to invest in faster networks, they say.
Kroes’ reform of Europe’s telecoms sector is aimed at increasing its competitiveness with the United States and Asia and spurring the continent’s big operators like France’s Orange and Britain’s Vodafone to invest in faster networks.
The Italian proposal will be discussed by national experts in Brussels on Thursday and is likely to undergo changes, said EU officials.
A key plank of the reform was to break down barriers between markets by making the sale of airwaves, or spectrum, more uniform across Europe.
Kroes had proposed giving the Commission a greater say in coordinating the timing of spectrum auctions across countries to help mobile operators expand across borders.
Under the latest draft however, the Commission’s power is curtailed and it would only be able to suggest a common timetable, with the final decision remaining in the hands of national regulators.
Telecoms operators had welcomed the Commission’s measures to help them buy airwaves across Europe, but member states are loath to give up control over the auctions as they are lucrative source of tax revenue.
Jens Rohde MEP, ALDE shadow rapporteur for the telecoms single market proposal said, "There will be no agreement unless roaming fees are abolished completely by the end of 2015. We cannot let our consumers and companies wait with nothing but empty words."
Fredrick Federley MEP, Coordinator of the ALDE group MEPs on the ITRE Committee said, "The Parliament's position on this matter is clear; no time must be lost in the battle to deliver a functioning single market for telecoms, which will drive down costs for consumers and businesses alike."
The European Commission introduced a cap on prices of cross-border mobile calls for the first time in June 2007 – the so-called 'roaming regulation’.
The EU executive's intervention was limited to roaming because domestic calls remain a competence of national regulators. The first roaming regulation also excluded text messaging and data.
A second regulation entered into force in 2009, introducing further steps to gradually lower caps for voice roaming, together with guarantees against "bill shocks" for data roaming.
In July 2011 the Commission proposed a third roaming regulation and announced plans to structurally reform the European market for roaming phone calls slashing wholesale prices and opening access to the market to new service providers.
In September 2013, the Commission heralded the end of roaming and said that price caps will no longer be needed. In a legislative proposal known as Connected Continent, the EU Executive also proposed to eliminate fees for receiving calls abroad.
- Late 2014: Member states decide on the legislative package adopted by the European Parliament
- Late 2015: Planned abolishment of roaming fees within the European Union
- Digital Agenda: Roaming
- Press release: Huge cuts in mobile data roaming price caps from 1 July – a drop of over 50% from last summer (24 June 2014)
- Press release: European Parliament votes to end roaming charges, expand consumer rights and make it easier to create better telecoms (3 April 2014)
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