European Union (EU) lawmakers voted 534 to 25 to scrap roaming fees charged for using mobile phones while users are abroad in another EU country, starting from December 15th, 2015. The move will please Europe’s consumers and annoy the industry which is desperately seeking new revenue streams.
With modern mobile phones, for example smartphones, they connect frequently to the Internet while switched on due to the applications that run the device. This is great when you are in your home country. However, when you are abroad your phone will carry on going online for its data. Unless you change the settings while abroad you could end up clocking up huge roaming data charges. You can save money by only connecting your phone to the Internet when in WIFI areas.
Under the new legislation, the cost of calling somebody on a mobile phone or downloading data in another country within the EU will be the same as doing so at home.
For the new law to become valid, each EU Member State’s government will need to approve it.
European Union citizens and consumer groups have been complaining for years about the high roaming charges which can amount to thousands of euros during one trip abroad. EU legislation has forced telecom operators to lower their fees over recent years.
After a February survey, the European Commission advised 94% of its citizens to carefully monitor their use of the Internet when traveling within Europe because of the high mobile roaming costs.
Roaming fees – a fragmented market in Europe
There are more than 200 different telecom operators in the European union, with a maze of different rules and charges.
According to the European Commission, the fragmentation of Europe’s telecoms market is estimated to add an additional €110 billion each year to costs, i.e. 0.9% of the trading bloc’s GDP (gross domestic product).
The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), the EU telecoms regulator, says that a large number of internet providers were slowing down and even blocking Skype and other VoIP services used to make phone calls over the Internet.
Under the new legislation internet providers will not be legally allowed to slow down or block internet services that their competitors provide.
A more efficient management of the radio spectrum would free up more space for mobile data and 4G/5G deployment.
A European single market for telecom services
EU lawmakers say they are aiming for a ‘single market’ in Europe for telecom services, while encouraging large operators such as the UK’s Vodafone and France’s Orange to improve networks.
Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner on digital affairs, said:
“This vote is the EU delivering for citizens. This is what the EU is all about – getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our mind.”
“Beyond the highly visible barrier of roaming we are now close to removing many other barriers so Europeans can enjoy open, seamless communications wherever they are”.
The European Commission had proposed the “Connected Continent” telecoms Regulation in September 2013. It aims to bring a truly single market for telecoms in the EU much closer by:
- Ending roaming charges.
- Guaranteeing an open internet for all citizens by banning the degrading of content and blocking.
- Coordinating spectrum licensing for wireless broadband
- Giving broadband and internet customers more transparency in their contracts.
- Making it easier for consumers to switch from one provider to another.