Commission cuts mobile roaming charge: one step closer to abolishment

Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes. European Parliament. [EC]

Europeans can now telephone and browse the web at lower costs while abroad. On 1 July, web browsing costs were halved and calling costs were cut by a quarter. EURACTIV France reports.

It’s a historic day for European mobile phone users. Roaming costs were reduced thanks to legislation pushed by the European Commission. Roaming costs are paid when using network services from different operator when abroad.

But from now on, downloading or browsing on the web is half as expensive as it used to be, phone calls from abroad cost 20% less, and the cost of receiving calls is 30% less. As for text messages, they now cost just two thirds of what they used to.

Mobile operators are also offering “the possibility to subscribe to roaming contracts before departure… and to choose a local mobile operator.”

“This is good news for consumers. From 1 July, data roaming is 25 times cheaper than during the last World Cup in 2010,” said Neelie Kroes, the European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, before adding: “This significant drop in data roaming charges will make a difference to all of us this summer. But it’s not enough. Why should we pay any roaming charges in the single market?”

Abolishing roaming charges 

These are the first steps in the EU’s plan to put an end to all roaming charges. In September 2013, the Commission submitted a legislative package known as “Connected Continent”, aimed at creating a single EU telecommunications market. The objective is to make internet access available on an “equal and open” basis and to support the rights of European consumers in mobile communication and high speed browsing on EU territory.

On 3 April, the European Parliament voted to suspend roaming charges by the end of 2015. The Commissioner for the Digital Agenda promised to do this in 2010. He said, “This vote is the EU’s response to the expectations of the people and it’s just what the EU should work towards: removing obstacles to facilitate the lives of Europeans and cut their costs.” All that’s left now is to find an agreement between states, the Commission and the text adopted by the European Parliament.

The Italian presidency of the EU Council, which started on 1 July, said it was ready to enforce the telecoms reforms voted in by the European Parliament, despite protests by major European operators.

>> Read: Italian presidency to support Parliament-backed telecoms reform

EU member states should decide on the legislative package by the end of the year.

Following the application of new legislation regarding roaming charges, Monique Goyens,  director-general of the European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC) said:

“Today is an important step towards the single telecoms market and it is one that should be celebrated. Data services profit increasingly from all calls and text messages. That is why fair pricing is so important. However, the Commission is advancing slowly on this issue even though it could make greater steps forward. MEPs voted with a great majority for the proposal to abolish roaming fees by 2015.”

“In fact, although they cried out against the legislation, this is a situation which can benefit operators in Europe. Roaming fees represent just a small proportion of profits [from mobile phone use] and around 45% Europeans are reluctant to use their mobile phones abroad due to high costs. Fairer prices will certainly increase mobile phone use and therefore revenue for operators.” 

The European Commission proposed last September a wide reform of the telecoms sector intended to kick-start the underperforming European telecoms sector and incentivise investment in ultra-fast broadband networks.

Brussels proposed to create a single market for telecoms in Europe. The sector still operates largely on the basis of the 28 national markets.

Under the commission's plan, the single market for telecoms will by ending roaming surcharges for mobile services abroad, better coordinating radio spectrum allocation, protecting the neutrality of the internet (although granting higher discretionary power to internet service providers) and raising consumer protection.

In April, the European Parliament approved the reforms with a few amendments, especially aimed at increasing protection of net neutrality. 

  • 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

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