Net neutrality in the EU is also set to become a reality following MEP vote
The European Union (EU) has confirmed there will be a complete ban on roaming charges for using mobile phones abroad in the EU. The ban will take effect in June 2017, as well as clear rules on the right to internet access for net neutrality that will also become law, following Parliament’s final approval of the new telecoms package on Tuesday.
By not accepting any amendments to the Council’s position in first reading, MEPs adopted the new law, which was reported on Smart Chimps in June.
Roaming fees for calling, sending text messages and using the mobile internet abroad in the EU (and in EEA countries) will be banned from 15 June 2017.
Said the rapporteur, Pilar del Castillo (EPP, ES), in the debate before the vote: “This abolition of roaming surcharges has been long awaited by everybody: ordinary people, start ups, SMEs and all kinds of organisations. Thanks to this agreement, Europe will also become the only region in world which legally guarantees open internet and net neutrality. The principle of net neutrality will be applied directly in the 28 member states. It also ensures that we will not have a two-speed internet.”
From 30 April 2016 roaming surcharges (added to the price paid at home) must not exceed: €0.05 per minute for outgoing voice calls; €0.02 for text messages (SMS); or €0.05 per megabyte of mobile internet use.
The cap on charges for incoming voice calls will be determined later this year and is expected to be considerably lower than for outgoing calls.
Yet if operators can prove that they cannot recover their costs and that this affects domestic prices, national regulatory authorities or regulatory authorities may authorise them to impose minimal surcharges in exceptional circumstances to recover these costs. However, MEPs won guarantees that national regulatory authorities will have the means to amend or reject the surcharges.
To protect the industry against abuses such as “permanent roaming”, operators could in certain circumstances be allowed to charge a small fee, lower than current caps, according to a “fair use” policy. The exact details for this will be defined by the Commission and telecoms regulators.
Mikael Schachne, vice president for mobile data business at BICS, a major a wholesale carrier delivering global voice, mobile data and capacity services, commented on the ruling: “Any decision to abolish data roaming charges would have a serious impact on the European telecoms industry, as operators look to alternative forms of income to replace revenue generated by mobile roaming fees. However, changes in legislation have the potential to transform the market landscape, ushering in a new era of innovation and collaboration from all parties in the ecosystem, including the launch of new “roaming only” pan-EU MVNOs.
“We have noticed a significant uplift in data roaming over the last 12 to18 months with our platform registering a 25% month by month increase in 4G roaming traffic. This demonstrates a strong appetite for data usage while travelling abroad, something that the industry can capitalise on by developing new business models and data plans that cater for the demands of this new breed of customer,” continued Schachne.
He added: “The reduction in roaming charges and introduction of innovative tariffs from agile mobile network operators, already seen in many markets, has led to a boom in the usage of 3G and 4G services abroad. New legislation could lead to a dynamic new marketplace that will further fuel the use of roaming services from subscribers and stimulate cross-border data usage.”
Net neutrality in the EU is also set to become a reality. The new law will oblige firms offering internet access to treat all traffic equally, so to not block or slow delivery of content, applications or services from selected senders or to selected receivers, unless this is necessary to obey court orders, comply with laws, prevent network congestion or combat cyber-attacks. If such traffic management measures are needed, they will have to be “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate” and may not last for longer than necessary.
An operator will nonetheless be able to offer specialised services (such as the improved internet quality needed for certain services), but only on condition that this does not have an impact on general internet quality.
MEPs ensured that internet providers will have to give users who are about to sign fixed or mobile internet contracts a clear explanation of what download and upload speeds (compared to the advertised speed,) they can usually expect. Any significant discrepancy that is continuous or occurs regularly will trigger a right to remedies such as terminating the contract or getting compensation. The national regulatory authorities will be responsible for verifying whether the difference is a breach of contract or not.