Ministers agree on ‘sustainably’ ending roaming charges

Arpád Érsek [European Council]

The Council agreed on a solution to end roaming fees in 2017 while lessening the impact on mobile operators. But consumer organisations warned against operators hiking domestic prices as compensation.

The European Union committed to letting its 500 million citizens use their phones while travelling abroad, within Europe, without incurring roaming charges, beginning in June 2017.

The first attempt at creating new legislation ending roaming charges suffered a setback last September.

After botched first attempt, Commission proposes new roaming bill with no time limit

In a bid to save face after a wave of outrage following a botched first attempt earlier this month, the European Commission proposed a new bill today (22 September) to get rid of mobile roaming charges by next year.

In the meantime, Slovakia, which is chairing the discussions as the holder of the rotating EU presidency, submitted compromise proposals which the Council adopted today (2 December) as the starting point for negotiations with the European Parliament.

The reform must be in place by 15 June 2017 so that roaming fees can be abolished as laid down in last year’s roaming regulation. To achieve this, the Slovak Presidency will be starting trilogue talks with Parliament in December.

EU considers concession to telecom firms to end roaming charges

Mobile telecoms operators across Europe could be allowed to charge each other higher fees for keeping customers connected when they travel abroad, under a Spanish proposal to help firms recoup their costs when roaming charges are abolished.

The draft regulation lays down limits for what operators may charge each other for the use of their networks for roaming services. These caps cover voice calls, SMS messages and the use of data.

The aim is to set the caps at a level that will help make the end of roaming charges sustainable across the EU, the Slovak Presidency said.

Slovak Minister for Transport, and Chair of the Council meeting, Arpád Érsek, said that the abolition of roaming charges is, in the eyes of many Europeans, the most concrete achievement of the Union.

“I welcome today´s swift decision by the Council to agree on wholesale roaming caps to enable negotiations with the European Parliament and make roam-like-at-home reality as of next year,” Érsek stated.

Wholesale price caps

With regard to caps for data, the general approach introduces a declining glide path, with the maximum charge starting from €0.01/MB on in mid-2017 and dropping gradually to €0.005/MB in mid-2021.

Diminishing caps reflect the expectation that the cost of providing wholesale roaming services will fall in the coming years.

The wholesale price cap for data is a crucial element in this review. The use of data on mobile devices has been increasing exponentially in recent years and is expected to continue to soar. With the end of roaming fees, data consumption abroad is expected to follow a similar trend.

For phone calls, the maximum surcharge would be €0.0353/min, and for text messages, €0.01 per message.

Wholesale sustainability mechanism

The general approach includes a new mechanism at wholesale level to ensure sustainability in exceptional circumstances. If operators are not able to recover their costs, they may ask their national regulator for permission to apply a surcharge on top of the caps.

However, even when applying an exceptional surcharge, the total wholesale charge for data cannot exceed €0.0085/MB.

The Commission would have to report every two years on how the rules work and, if appropriate, propose new rules.

The European consumer organisation BEUC warned that today’s decision is of particular importance to European consumers as it could have direct negative consequences on the plan to abolish roaming fees in June 2017.

Monique Goyens, the Director General of BEUC, called the member states’ handling of the wholesale roaming reform “playing with fire”.

“In their effort to please their national telecom players they risk scuppering the long-promised end of roaming fees in June 2017”, she stated.

She further argued that consumers should not have to pay higher phone bills just because they move across a border, neither should they face the risk of higher domestic prices because their governments decided against bringing down high wholesale charges.

“In these times of political uncertainty, the EU must guarantee the success of its flagship projects. We ask governments to rethink their position and take decisive action to end roaming fees in the EU,” Goyens stated.

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