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16th Jan 2019

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Late-night deal: Roaming to end June 2017

  • As of June 2017, roaming surcharges while in another EU country will be a thing of the past (Photo: David van der Mark)

After a 12-hour marathon that ended in the early hours of Tuesday (30 June), negotiators in Brussels agreed on an end to roaming surcharges by June 2017 and adopted EU rules to prevent data discrimination by internet providers.

The compromise deal, between the European Parliament and EU governments, mediated by the European Commission, ends months of deadlock but also delays the fulfilment of promises by parliament and commission.

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MEPs and the commission had promised to end roaming surcharges, added to phone bills for calling, texting, or going online while abroad, by the end of 2015.

But national governments have been reluctant to cut the revenue stream for telecommunication companies. Initially, governments proposed to allow only a "basic roaming allowance", but slowly moved towards the EP position of abolishment.

The final deal to end to roaming by 15 June 2017 is a compromise.

That means two more summers of switching off your phone when going to another member state.

Meanwhile, the already existing cap on roaming surcharges will be lowered to €0.05 per minute of call made, €0.02 per sent text message, and €0.05 per megabyte of data (excluding VAT).

“Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges ... They have been heard”, said digital single market commissioner Andrus Ansip in a press statement.

However, a commission statement on the deal will include “fair use safeguard” to “prevent abusive uses”.

Abusive use is “for example, if the customer buys a SIM card in another EU country where domestic prices are lower to use it at home; or if the customer permanently stays abroad with a domestic subscription of his home country.”

The negotiators have not yet made it public what constitutes fair use, but the commission did note that there can be a penalty.

“These unusual behaviours are also called 'permanent roaming' and could have a negative impact on domestic prices, and ultimately on consumers. This is why there is a fair use safeguard. Once that limit is reached while being abroad, a small basic fee can be charged", the Ansip statement says.

Part of the deal are the first EU-wide rules on net neutrality, the principle that internet providers or other intermediaries do not discriminate between data streams: that a video from company A should be streamed just as quickly (or slowly) as a video from company B.

The commission in its statement said net neutrality rules are “the strongest in the world”, although digital commissioner Guenther Oettinger chose the phrase “pragmatic net neutrality rules”.

Although the commission press release notes that internet users “will not be unfairly blocked or slowed down anymore, and paid prioritisation will not be allowed”, the member states' press release noted that providers “may use reasonable traffic management measures”.

“Blocking or throttling will be allowed only in a limited number of circumstances, for instance to counter a cyber-attacks and prevent traffic congestion. Agreements on services requiring a specific level of quality will be allowed, but operators will have to ensure the general quality of internet access services”, the national governments' statement said.

Only when the legal text is available will an independent review of how strong the net neutrality rules are be possible.

In a social media message on Tuesday at around 2:00am Brussels time, Austrian Green MEP Michel Reimon wrote that socialist MEPs “agreed that internet is no longer neutral”, indicating that not everyone is happy with the result. Reimon could not be reached on Tuesday morning.

In earlier statement on Monday, Reimon noted that he had asked for the negotiations to be continue later, but a majority clearly wanted to continue.

Tuesday is the last day of Latvia's six-month presidency and the Baltic state was keen to clinch a deal as part of its legacy.

The net neutrality rules will apply from 30 April 2016.

EU countries to break promise on roaming surcharges

National governments are set to break a promise EU politicians have been making to citizens, by suggesting that roaming surcharges could continue beyond the end of 2015, and adding exceptions to the principle of network neutrality.

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