The European Councilyesterday adopted the legal act that limits how much mobile operators can charge each other the final step in the multi-stage, multi-year process forthe regions lawmakers to agreean endto roamingcharges for citizens. The roam like at home policy will come into affectacross the European Union from June 15.
A preliminary deal to end charges for EU citizens using their mobile device in another Europeancountry otherthan their ownwas agreed in June 2015.
ThisFebruaryfinal agreement was reached between the executive body of the EU, the European Commission, and the Europeanparliament. The European Council vote was the last hurdle.
The body, which is made up of the heads of state of the EUs 28 Member States, had previously blocked an earlier EC pushto end roaming charges, in 2015voting to keep the fees until at least 2018 at that time. Following that setback, some changes were made tothe measure to try to allay operators concerns, and a deal on wholesale price caps was also reached to finally arrive at the current accord.
In a statement yesterday on behalf of the Council, Dr Emmanuel Mallia, the Maltese digital minister,said: Todays final vote in the Council clears the path for free roaming. When Europeans go on holiday this summer, they can enjoy the freedom of being able to stay in touch and use the Internet as if they were at home. The EU is making our lives easier in very practical ways.
As well as the (currently) 28 EU Member States where roaming without paying surcharges will apply from June 15, the roam like at home measurealso applyin European Economic Area countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway shortly after that date.
Itspart of a wider EU effort to establish aDigital Single Market(DSM) across the region by reducingnational barriers to ecommerce. Other planks of this policy include an agreement to end geoblocks on travellers digital subscriptionssecured earlier this year,and an in-train (but much criticized) digital copyright reform which mayhave a final text agreed by the end of theyear.
The European Commission firstset out itsintention to end mobile roamingfees in a2013 reform plan, called theTelecoms Single Marketinitiative a part of the DSM, so also aimed atboosting the regions global competitiveness and fostering digital jobs by reducing market fragmentation.
But even as far back as 2006European commissioners have been calling for operatorstoreduce the amount theycharge consumers for roaming. So its been a long and prettytortuous negotiation process to arrive at a deal.
The telcoms industry lobbied fiercelyto keep the lucrative charges for as long as possible. Indeed, pressure from telcos ledthe Commission torewrite its roam like at homeplanin fall last year to incorporatea fair use policy to try to allay operators fears of so-called permanent roamers (i.e. EU citizenstaking advantage of lower tariffs in certain European countries to avoid paying higher domestic mobile tariffs). So, technically speaking, not all roaming fees are being abolished on June 15 hence the Commissions roam like at home moniker.
An EC FAQ on the measuresnotes that operators will beable todetect possible abuses of the policy over a four-month period, and may contact a mobile user to ask them to clarify their country of residence within 14 days. If an EU mobile usercontinues to be abroad in the EU more than they are at home capped roaming fees may then once again apply.
The general rule is that as long as you spend more time at home than abroad or you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad you can roam at domestic prices when travelling anywhere in the EU, it states.
There are also additionalrules forphone plans with unlimited data, which may result in roaming fees if you exceed the roam like at home allowance becauseoperators are notrequired to provide like-for-like unlimited data, but may just offera large volume of data, depending on the price of the mobile bundle; and for pre-paid cards, which may have a volume limit fordata applied to them, depending on the price per unit paid.
There isalsocriticism beyond these small print limits. The biggestconcernhas been that the measure will push up the price of standard mobile contracts meaningmobile users would bepaying more domestically to subsidize the cost of cheaper calls and data when theyre on holiday. (Indeed, some EU operators took early opportunistic action to raise prices blaming the incoming measure.)
A core part of the process hasthereforebeen for EU institutions to agree the wholesale price caps onhow much telecoms operators can charge each other for using their networks forthe cross-border roaming traffic to ensure their costs can come down as well as consumers. Although operators also stand to lose revenue because they also cant chargeothercarriers as much to use their networks. Hence the tricky negotiation process.
Yesterday the Council adopted the reform of EUwholesale prices describing it as a practical and legal prerequisite for the end of roaming as laid down in the roaming regulation from 2015.
New wholesale caps were needed to help ensure that operators are able to offer surcharge-free roaming to their customers without increasing prices at home, it added.
The EU parliament agreed the wholesale roaming regulationearlier, on April 6. The new rules introduce caps on wholesales charges of 7.70 per gigabyte from this June, falling each January thereafter to just 2.50 per gigabyte from 2022. But it remains to be seen whether EU operators will generally be content with the impact ofthenew wholesale roaming regulationsontheir bottom lines or whether they will raise domestic pricesto top up any shortfall.
For UK citizens there is also the specificquestion of what Brexit will mean for their mobile roaming fees. Because once the country leaves the EU itwill no longerbe covered by the incoming roamingrules allowing continental carriers to charge UKconsumers, at least in theory, as much as they like to use their phones in the EU. Unless a comprehensive trade deal can be secured.
Any quick bilateral deal on UK-EU roaming has already been ruled out by the EC, according to the FT. So, for travelling Brits, everything hinges on the Brexit negotiations and how quickly a trade deal materializes.
In terms of final stages for implementing roam like at home, the agreed text of the wholesale roaming regulation willbesigned by the Council and the EU Parliamentin mid-May and published in the EU Official Journal by the end of May entering into force three days after publication, and in time for theJune 15 deadline for it to come into force.