Commissioner calls for end to roaming charges in EU

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Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes on Thursday (30 May) called for an end to mobile roaming charges before the next European elections, and said mobile network operators should no longer be able to block telecommunications services such as Skype.

Speaking to the European Parliament, Kroes said she wanted Europeans to be able to see what the EU is doing for them ahead of elections to be held on 22-25 May 2014.

“Will you join me in building something special between now and the European elections," she asked the MEPs. “I want us to show citizens that the EU is relevant to their lives. I want you to be able to go back to your constituents and say that you were able to end mobile roaming costs.”

Kroes said the EU could deliver a ”full, final” legislative package to end roaming charges “around Easter 2014”.

Kroes’ proposal would go well beyond previous Commission efforts to cap roaming charges on cross-border calls and messaging.

Building a bridge with citizens

Kroes, who is not running for another term at the Commission, said she wanted to give MEPs the “full share of credit” for “building a bridge” to EU voters. She said the proposal could reach young people – “the generation that cares most about being connected, but who votes the least”.

“If we do this right, then digital connections can bring political connections. Digital dividends can bring social ones. … Whether they need it for travel, for trade, or for transactions – our people need this reform,” Kroes said.

The commissioner's spokesman, Ryan Heath, said telecom operators did not oppose the move because it would spur demand. Telecommunication executives had told Kroes that they had been wrong to oppose caps on roaming charges, he said.

“That’s a case of a real win-win. It’s not a total shock for the companies,” he said.

Telecom companies may not be so easy to convince by the move to guarantee network neutrality, which would mean ending restrictions on internet communications services.

The neutrality principle implies that no provider can prioritise traffic on the network for economic reasons. A recent report showed that at least 20%, and potentially up to half of EU mobile broadband users, have contracts that allow their internet service provider (ISP) to restrict communications services or peer-to-peer file sharing. Some 20% of fixed operators also enforce service restrictions that limit Internet speed.

Companies blocking services like Skype "will really have to face the competition," Heath said. "They will no longer be able to block Skype because its suits them. That’s going to come at a cost for them, but it’s going to help more companies than it hurts.”

In June 2007, the European Commission introduced a regulation placing caps on prices of cross-border mobile calls in Europe, 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.

The measures were supposed to eliminate differences for cross-border phone calls, saying that price caps will be no longer necessary as from 2016.

  • 22-25 May 2014: European elections

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