Brexit won’t affect roaming charges, vows UK government

UK Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey

Ed Vaizey [TechCrunch/Flickr]

British consumers can rest assured they’ll benefit from EU plans to drop roaming charges in 2017—regardless of the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership, a British official told a concerned House of Lords committee yesterday (7 September).

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, reassured wound up members of the House of Lords that EU membership won’t be decisive for the EU-wide roaming ban set to go into effect in 2017.

“If we were to withdraw from the European Union, I still think that British consumers would benefit,” Vaizey told members of the EU Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee. “Norway, for example, is not a member of the European Union but it will benefit from this package as it’s part of the European Economic Area,” he explained.

Vaizey represented the UK in talks with EU institutions on the legislation.

After a marathon, closed-door session, EU negotiators agreed at the end of June to eliminate mobile roaming charges within Europe in 2017. Starting in April of next year, the cost of calls, SMSs and data use will drop significantly for European mobile users traveling in other member states. The legislation package also included measures on net neutrality.

>>Read: Getting a telecoms deal: Harder than agreeing on Greece?

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for the referendum on EU membership to take place by 2017, but no date has been set.

“There’s not always a whole lot of good news coming out of the European Union, but this is very good news, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that European consumers will see. It will make an impact on their lives and they’ll see it as a benefit of being part of the European Union,” Vaizey said.

Faced with questions from committee members about how the roaming deal would impact telecommunications providers, Vaizey insisted that companies would benefit when mobile users aren’t afraid to keep their phones on because of high charges when they travel.

“There are plenty of estimates that show that over the next 10 years the abolition of roaming charges could actually see a net increase in revenues for telecoms companies,” he said.

Vaizey defended the EU agreement on net neutrality, telling the committee, “I don’t regard net neutrality as some kind of theological doctrine, I regard it as a sensible practice to stop anti-competitive behaviour.”

The EU net neutrality rules prevent telecoms providers from giving certain internet traffic preferential treatment or better quality access and also regulate when providers can step in to manage internet traffic.

>>Read: Net neutrality faces unwilling Council negotiators

Tory MEPs had pushed for the European net neutrality law to include parental filters controlling access to pornography for children, which many UK telecoms providers offer users by default.

But that measure was cut out in negotiations.

“If we need to clarify that provision as a result of the net neutrality regulation, we’ll do that in time. We’v’e got 18 months before the directive has to be transposed so we have plenty of time to make any appropriate amendments,” Vaizey said.

UK telecoms providers will have to replace its current filters if a new national law is introduced by the end of 2016.

British MEP Vicky Ford is shadow rapporteur on the legislation for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in Parliament. She told EURACTIV after the deal was reached that MEPs from the Socialists & Democrats group refused to sign off on the package with the EU-wide porn and spam filter proposed by conservatives.

“This is crazy because even for a spam filter we’d need to have 28 different regimes. That is not in the interest of consumers,” Ford said.

The roaming and net neutrality legislation package still has to pass a plenary vote this fall in the European Parliament.

Vaizey also told committee members in Monday’s meeting that he suspects protectionism behind the European Commission’s public consultation on internet platforms, set to launch later this month.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that some member states do have concerns about some of the platforms,” Vaizey said.

“But my instinct is that those concerns are based on the fact that those platforms haven’t grown out of the member states themselves. If they’re from a different nationality those concerns might melt away. So we need greater clarity from those member states that are talking about platform regulation on what they mean by platforms, what specific regulations they’re talking about and what ill they’re trying to cure.”

In June 2015, negotiators from the European Commission, Parliament and Council agreed on telecoms single market legislation banning roaming charges in Europe and introducing net neutrality measures.

Under the agreement, roaming charges for passing international mobile phone calls within Europe will be dropped starting on 15 June 2017. A transition phase will start next April, when charges will see a first downwards pivot. Call fees will then be capped at €0.05 per minute, an SMS at €0.02 and data use at €0.05 per megabyte.

The agreement doesn't address the issue of zero rating, which allows internet providers to offer services like Facebook or Skype at no extra cost. Zero rating is already illegal in Slovenia and the Netherlands.

>> Read: Getting a telecoms deal: Harder than agreeing on Greece?

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