EU renews roaming until 2032 with gradual reductions for data cost

The recast of the roaming regulation extends the abolishment of roaming charges in the EU that has been in place since 2017. [Virrage Images/Shutterstock]

The EU institutions adopted a recast version of the roaming regulation on Wednesday evening (8 December), extending for ten years the legislation that allows Europeans to use their phones inside the bloc without extra charges.

The EU Parliament, Council and Commission bridged their differences in a meeting a participant described as ‘tough’. Time pressure contributed to reaching an agreement as the current roaming law expires in June 2022 and the Slovenian government sought a victory before the end of their presidency.

“Both consumers and businesses can continue to enjoy this tangible benefit, which also supports one of our most fundamental values, namely the free movement of people within the EU,” said Slovenia’s minister for the public administration, Boštjan Koritnik.

The compromise is the result of very different vested interests. EU countries pushed for measures favourable to telecom providers, the largest of which are former state monopolies, some of which are still publicly owned, at least in part. By contrast, EU lawmakers are traditionally more sensitive to the interests of consumers.

Slovenia believes roaming regulation agreement feasible in coming days

EU member states could agree on a draft regulation on roaming in the EU in the coming days, Slovenian Minister of Public Administration Boštjan Koritnik said in Brussels on Friday (3 December).

Koritnik, whose country holds the rotating EU Council presidency …

“It was my goal not to simply prolong the current roaming regulation but make significant improvements for the consumers,” said Angelika Winzig, the lead negotiator for the Parliament.

The crux of the negotiations was around wholesale cap prices, the maximum cost an operator can charge for hosting someone from abroad.

Touristy destinations have an interest in higher caps, as they have more people coming in than out. This revenue can then be used to invest in infrastructure to better manage the peak of presences in the tourist season, their argument goes.

While the cap prizes relate to what operators charge each other, EU lawmakers feared that more expensive costs between operators would eventually be offloaded on consumers.

Moreover, high caps are likely to put on the backfoot Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which do not own any infrastructure and are trying to compete with traditional operators that host them on their networks by selling large amounts of data at a competitive price.

The negotiations on this point were particularly tense, with the presidency even calling out the bloc of countries in favour of higher prices, formed by Europe’s south plus Germany. An agreement was finally reached by spreading a gradual decrease of the costs across five years.

The starting point will be at €2 per gigabyte (GB) of data in the second half of 2022, the same as the Commission’s proposal, which will steadily decrease until €1 in 2027. In the previous regulation, the cap started at €7.70 and reached €2.50 by the start of 2022.

Critics point out that these prices do not reflect the real cost of data, which, according to an unpublished story from consulting firm WIK, seen by EURACTIV in October, in Germany is estimated to range from €0.35 to €0.05 per GB.

“We cannot wait for 2027 to have caps at 1€/GB knowing that already in 2018, operators were widely exchanging below 1€/GB, this is almost a 10-year delay for us in terms of prices,” a spokesperson of MVNO Europe told EURACTIV.

“This will lead to less competition and choice for consumers,” the spokesperson added.

EU Parliament backs roaming extension until 2032, price cuts

The European Parliament has backed the extension of free roaming services in the EU until 2032 and its position envisages lower cap prizes than initially proposed, provisions on intra-EU calls, stronger quality of service, and transparency obligations for telecom providers.

One of the additions in the parliament’s text was the inclusion of intra-EU calls in the scope of the proposal. For the lawmakers, it does not make sense that calling from home to another EU country is more expensive than calling when one is abroad.

Nevertheless, member states strongly opposed the proposal, arguing that this was just a recast of a previous regulation that did not include such measures. The compromise reached was to include a mention in the preamble of the legislation urging the EU Commission to look into the matter before the end of its mandate in 2024.

“It is an acknowledgement that there is a problem,” a European Parliament official present during the negotiation told EURACTIV, stressing that the EU governments did not even want this proposal mentioned at all in the text.

Another point of contention between the EU legislators was the fair use policy, provisions limiting the usage of roaming in time to avoid a de facto permanent roaming situation. The expedient found was to add wording requesting the European Commission to look into the matter via implementing acts.

The definition of fair use policy falls outside the scope of the roaming regulation, hence the point here was to send a ‘political signal’, the parliament official added.

In a concession to the European Parliament, the next revision of the legislation will not be based on delegated acts, a secondary legislative procedure generally used for technical matters that leaves a lot of room for discretion to the Commission.

Instead, the recast proposal will have to go through the ordinary legislative procedure with both the EU Parliament and Council involved.

EU court rules zero tariff offers violate open internet, roaming provisions

The European Union’s highest court ruled on Thursday (2 September) that unlimited streaming offers from Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom violate EU roaming and net neutrality rules.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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