EU sets June 2017 as date to end mobile roaming charges

A compromise on roaming regulations agreed on Monday night still needs approval from member states and the European Parliament

Entrance of the European Parliament's Altiero Spinelli Building in Brussels on June 17, 2015

Entrance of the European Parliament's Altiero Spinelli Building in Brussels on June 17, 2015

European Union citizens will have to wait another couple of years before they are able to use their mobile phones anywhere within the EU without surcharge, after a compromise reached by lawmakers Monday night.

The European Commission and Parliament had agreed on a target of the end of this year to eliminate roaming fees levied by network operators when subscribers use their phones outside their home country.

However, representatives of the EU's member states in the Council of the EU, the bloc's third decision-making body, wanted to wait until mid-2018.

On Monday night, council officials agreed on a compromise text with Parliament representatives, setting June 2017 as the date to end roaming charges. Despite the additional delay, the Commission welcomed the agreement.

While the abolition of roaming charges has widespread support, the text -- part of a broader reform of telecommunications law -- also includes provisions on net neutrality that are proving more controversial. The Netherlands has already said it will vote against the text because of these provisions, even though they are not yet fully defined.

Although travellers will have to wait two more years for the outright abolition of roaming fees, from next April rules already in place will set a limit for the difference between roaming fees and domestic call charges. Current rules put absolute caps on roaming costs of €0.19 (US$0.21) per minute for calls, €0.06 per text message and €0.20 per megabyte of data. From April, roaming surcharges will be limited to €0.05 per minute, €0.02 per text and €0.05 per megabyte relative to domestic costs.

Setting the rules in this way could have allowed people to choose the cheapest operator not just in their home country, but anywhere in Europe, and then spend all their time roaming. However, under the proposed rules agreed on Monday, providers will be allowed to prevent "abusive use of roaming," including using roaming services for purposes other than periodic travel.

Meanwhile, national regulators will be able to grant exceptions to network operators on request. The exceptions are meant to take the sustainability of domestic charges and the level of national prices and revenues into account. This clause was designed for the Nordic states, which have very low retail prices, and is meant to avoid market distortion, Marietje Schaake, a Member of the European Parliament who attended the negotiations said in an email.

The latest proposal still needs formal approval from the EU member states and from the entire European Parliament before it can become law.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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