European Commission welcomes agreement to end roaming charges and to guarantee an open internet
Roaming charges in the European Union (EU) are set to end in June 2017, the European Commission (EC) has announced. When travelling in the EU, mobile phone users will pay the same price as at home with no extra charges, following an agreement reached today within the European Parliament and the Council, almost two years after the EC put forward its proposal for a telecoms single market.
Additionally, strong net neutrality rules protecting the right of every European to access internet content, without discrimination, have been agreed.
These measures will be completed by an ambitious overhaul of EU telecoms rules in 2016. This reform will include a more effective EU-level spectrum coordination. Creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish is a key objective of the Commission’s plan for a Digital Single Market.
Welcoming the agreement, Andrus Ansip, Commission vice president for the Digital Single Market, said: “Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a Digital Single Market. Our plans to make it happen were fully endorsed by Heads of State and Government last week, and we should move faster than ever on this.”
Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: “I welcome today’s crucial agreement to finally end roaming charges and establish pragmatic net neutrality rules throughout the EU. Both are essential for consumers and businesses in today’s European digital economy and society. We will build on these important foundations in our forthcoming review of the EU’s telecoms legislation.”
For a decade, the Commission has continuously been working to decrease roaming charges within the EU. Prices for roaming calls, SMS and data have fallen by 80% since 2007. Data roaming is now up to 91% cheaper compared to 2007.
Under today’s agreement roaming charges will cease to exist in the EU as of 15 June 2017. Consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are travelling in the EU, as well as the ability to call another EU country.
Daniel Kurgan, CEO, BICS, said today’s announcement may be good for future innovation in the mobile world: “The impact on the European telecoms industry from eradicating roaming regulations will be huge, but it also has the potential to usher in a new era of innovation and collaboration from all parties in the ecosystem, including the launch of new ‘roaming only’ pan-EU MVNOs. This dynamic new marketplace could further fuel the use of roaming services from subscribers and stimulate cross-border data usage.”
To abolish roaming charges a series of technical conditions will have to be fulfilled. The Commission is fully committed to implementing those conditions and making sure that the end of roaming charges is operational as of day one.
Already from April 2016, roaming will become even cheaper; operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices up to €0.05 per minute of call made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data (excl. VAT). This maximum roaming charge is about 75% cheaper than current roaming caps for calls made and data.
However, Mark Windle, head of marketing at OpenCloud, has stated that the new rules will add financial pressure on mobile operators within the EU. He commented: “EU roaming premiums are on their way out and reducing mobile operators’ revenues with them. This is on top of the fiercely competitive market conditions that have arisen over the last few years that have already squeezed the operators’ revenue streams.
“In order to compete effectively in the marketplace, operators need to add tangible value to their LTE services,” Windle continued. “Internet companies and OTT players like Google and Facebook have been offering free, value added services to their customers continuously, providing incremental updates at no extra cost. Operators must replicate this model and put more effort into innovation to increase and strengthen customer loyalty. Adding further value to their communication services could be the differentiator that operators need to win market share.”
Today’s agreement also enshrines for the first time the principle of net neutrality into EU law; users will be free to access the content of their choice, they will not be unfairly blocked or slowed down anymore, and paid prioritisation will not be allowed. This means, for example, that the access to a start up’s website will not be unfairly slowed down to make the way for bigger companies. No service will be stuck because it does not pay an additional fee to ISPs.
In the open internet, all traffic will be treated equally, subject to strict and clearly identified public interest exceptions, such as network security or combating child pornography, and subject to efficient day to day network management by ISPs.
In parallel, internet access providers will still be able to offer specialised services of higher quality, such as internet TV and new innovative applications, so long as these services are not supplied at the expense of the quality of the open internet.
The EU will have the strongest and most comprehensive open internet rules in the world, complete with strong end user rights to ensure that subscribers get what they pay for. These rules will be a reality across all Member States as soon as the text officially applies on 30 April 2016.
These common EU-wide internet rules will avoid fragmentation in the single market, creating legal certainty for businesses and making it easier for them to work across borders.
Following today’s political agreement, the text will have to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Then it will be translated into all EU languages. After that it will be published in the Official Journal and will officially enter into force.