Mobile Operators in Europe will have to offer their customers at least 100 megabytes (MB) of data a year at domestic rates when travelling within the European Union, according to Reuters.
EU member states and members of the European Parliament are in the final stage of negotiations on a package aimed at slashing mobile roaming fees and also setting net neutrality rules on how telecom operators handle the traffic on their networks. While members of the Brussels-based legislature voted last year to abolish roaming fees by the end of 2015, member states have pushed back the date and instead considered a system whereby consumers could enjoy a limited daily allowance at domestic prices before being charged extra.
The latest proposal from Latvia, which holds the rotating European Presidency, suggests that telecoms firms should have to give their customers a basic yearly roaming allowance of 100 minutes of incoming and outgoing voice calls, 50 text messages and 100 MB of data – equivalent to about 300 emails with attachments.
That is a step up from an earlier proposal which would have given customers just 35 minutes of outgoing calls, 35 texts and 35 MB a year.
The proposal needs to be discussed further by member states and will almost certainly undergo changes in the next round of negotiations with the Parliament, expected some time around the middle of next month.
Operators will be able to levy a surcharge for any usage above the allowance although this would be capped at the maximum wholesale prices they pay other firms for handling the traffic when their customers are abroad.
Eliminating roaming charges has been a banner issue for the European Commission for several years, and Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s vice president in charge of its Digital Single Market project, has criticised member states repeatedly for watering down the original proposal.
Capping roaming surcharges at wholesale prices would still mean they are slashed by 75 percent. The maximum wholesale charge for data is currently 0.05 euros per MB, while the retail cap is 0.20 euros per MB.
Member states with cheap domestic rates, such as those in Eastern Europe, fear that eliminating retail roaming fees without tackling the wholesale charges could lead to their operators raising domestic prices to cover the costs. On the other hand operators in countries with a lot of incoming tourist traffic, like Spain’s Telefonica, earn a lot of money from charging other operators to use their networks.
Vice-President Andrus Ansip speaking at “European Divides,” the Thursday launch event for POLITICO in Europe, the digital single market coordinator reiterated his outrage at the Council of the EU’s position on that element of the Connected Continent package, in which they propose letting telcos charge for anything more than a handful of calls, texts and data megabytes per month.
“This is a negotiation process between the three parties – the member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission, and I don’t think it’s correct or somehow supportive to set some kind of red lines, but I’m counting on you and on public opinion,” he said. “People are expecting the full abolition of roaming surcharges.”
Ansip used the example of his children, who will be travelling to Greece and Poland on upcoming holidays and school trips.
“Of course she’s the daughter of a quite well-paid vice-president of the European Commission, but what do other people have to say to their children? ‘Don’t pick up my phonecall when travelling in other countries? Don’t use your Facebook account – maybe there will be some videos; it will kill our budget.”
He also pointed out that every political party in the last European elections promised to abolish roaming surcharges, yet countries are now trying to pull back on the idea.
“All the people, including politicians, have to keep their promises,” he said.
Source: Reuters, Politico