After almost 13 hours cooped up in talks, negotiators tasked with clinching some kind of a deal on the telecoms single market came to a breakthrough early this morning (30 June). At around two o’clock, frazzled MEPs tweeted that the marathon meeting had broken up with an agreement in hand.
Michel Reimon, shadow MEP for the Greens on the deal, told EURACTIV this morning that the Social Democrats and Greens in Parliament wanted to disperse earlier and reconvene on another day. But the Council presidency wanted to power through to reach agreement.
“I was very much reminded of the Greek negotiations last weekend. They came up with papers, we had a break for hours, they came back and had new papers—unofficial papers, new versions,” Reimon said.
With the Latvian presidency of the Council petering out ahead of tomorrow’s handover to Luxembourg, the deal comes as a last-ditch effort to sound off the six-month term with a conclusion to the long fought over legislation on roaming charges and net neutrality provisions.
The agreement reached by MEPs, the Council of the EU and the Commission still needs to go through a revision process, which could take weeks. A first Council meeting took place this morning to present the deal to ambassadors.
A final signing off on the agreement won’t happen until this fall.
Positive for consumers and industry
Spanish MEP Pilar del Castillo (EPP), the rapporteur on the legislation package, called the outcome on net neutrality and roaming a positive move and said it safeguards digital rights.
“This agreement means very tangible benefits for all Europeans and economic sectors and constitutes an important step forward in the development of the Digital Single Market,” del Castillo said.
Under the new agreement, roaming charges 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.
Negotiators told EURACTIV that under this deal, telecoms could still recoup fees lost to the roaming drop-off with a cost relief provision that would let them add charges under a different name.
EU digital chiefs Andrus Ansip and Günther Oettinger signalled their approval of the roaming deal.
But Monique Goyens, director of consumer association BEUC, dampened enthusiastic reception to the roaming deal. Goyens tweeted this morning, warning that the text still has complex provisions on “fair use” and “undue burden.”
Today’s deal also brings Europe a step closer to its first legislation on net neutrality.
According to the Commission, the new agreement includes “strong net neutrality rules protecting the right of every European to access Internet content, without discrimination.”
The deal will allow faster access for specialised services provided they don’t damage users’ Internet access. Those services can include e-health technologies or Voice over IP.
Reimon, who has pushed for strict rules guaranteeing net neutrality, said the specialised services clause will benefit big companies and damage the small ones that can’t afford to offer paid add-ons.
“The United States prohibited exactly this, and they have a thriving IT economy. And now we did exactly the opposite,” Reimon said.
“We now have an open and a closed internet and the open internet stays neutral. That’s almost an Orwellian definition of net neutrality. The closed internet has specialised services.”
The agreement also opens the door to zero rating, which some telecoms companies use to offer extra sponsored content in their service packages, though regulators are supposed to make sure competing offers aren’t blocked as a result.
NGO EDRi criticised the agreement as unclear and a step down from the Parliament’s original decision in favour of net neutrality last year.
Telecoms providers have pushed back against net neutrality provisions that they say would keep companies from staying competitive. Industry association ETNO warned in a statement against legislation that would harm “innovative business models.”
ETNO also called for roaming rules “that do not distort national markets and allow for cost-recovery for all market players”.