22nd Mar 2018

EU countries agree data roaming charges

  • (Photo: David van der Mark)

Member states agreed on Wednesday (26 October) on the future cost of the use of data for mobile operators when their customers travel in the EU, or so-called roaming.

From 15 June next year, operators will charge each other €1 cent the use of one megabyte by users when they are not in their country.

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The charge will progressively go down to €0.5 cent per megabyte (c/MB) in 2021. On average, a megabyte will cost €0.85 c/MB. A review will take place in the meantime to set the long-term prices.

The agreement between EU ambassadors will have to be endorsed by ministers in December and then by the European Parliament as part of work to end roaming costs in June 2017.

The cost for operators of the end of roaming for users is crucial to make the flagship commission initiative work.

With smartphones overtaking traditional mobile phones, the cost of data use has become the main issue in the discussion.

The proposal, put forward by the Slovak presidency of the EU, made possible to square up the European Commission's suggestion - €0.85 c/MB - with positions from northern countries, who wanted a lower price, and form southern countries, who wanted a higher price.

The charge for calls, which is less controversial, will be dealt with at a technical level, while the charge for SMS-es was a "complete non-issue", a source said. The commission proposed a €4 c/min charge on calls and €1 cent per SMS.

Southern countries, which face peaks of users and data consumption in the summer tourist season, had concerns about their network capacities and the cost to maintain them.

As a compromise, ambassadors also agreed on a so-called ring-fenced sustainability mechanism that will allow countries to apply a surchage, limited to €0.85 c/MB, when they see big pressure on their system.

The discussion on wholesale charges comes in parallel to the discussion concerning the price for consumers.

In September, the commission presented and then withdrew a plan to limit free roaming to 90 days a year, and proposed instead to allow operators to apply surcharges on data, calls and SMS-es to customers who employ SIM cards from a country where they do not use it.

The proposal is due to be adopted in December.

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