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24th Oct 2021

EU countries to break promise on roaming surcharges

  • In 2013, the commission promised to end roaming surcharges, but national governments suggest that roaming surcharges could continue beyond the end of 2015 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

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.

According to a recent draft text on new EU rules for telecom providers, mobile phone users should be given a “basic roaming allowance”, but once that is used up, providers would still be able to add a surcharge.

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The text, seen by this website, is the common member states' version of a proposal for an EU legal act. It is dated Monday 2 March, and expected to be adopted on Wednesday.

Back in 2013, the commission promised to end roaming surcharges, which are added to a phone bill when calls are made or data is sent and received outside of the home country of the subscriber. In April 2014, the European Parliament voted to end roaming surcharges by December 2015.

The national governments, however, now state that “a transitional period is needed, allowing roaming providers to adapt to wholesale market conditions while providing their customers with a possibility to satisfy their communications needs”.

“During the period concerned, roaming providers should offer roaming services at levels not exceeding those applicable for domestic services, with a possibility to add a surcharge.”

Although the text does not specify how many megabytes or minutes the allowance should be, it does say that it “should take account of the average travelling and domestic consumption patterns of all Europeans, it being understood that such an average pattern will not reflect the practices of all individual consumers”.

The basic roaming allowance “may not allow roaming customers to confidently replicate the domestic consumption patterns for data roaming services”.

The new rules should apply from 30 June 2016, the text states. However, if someone has signed a new two-year contract today, they may not profit from the new rules until 2017.

The text also aims to lay down rules concerning network neutrality, the principle that internet providers may not discriminate against specific content.

However, the document leaves room for providers to do just that if they do it to “implement traffic management measures”.

The Liberals in the European Parliament have already come out strong against the countries' version of the rules, stating they “are more interested in defending the interests of their national telecom operators than creating real competition that would provide cheaper rates for citizens and businesses”.

“To say this text lacks ambition is an understatement”, read a statement by the fourth largest political group in the parliament, released Tuesday.

The new commission of Jean-Claude Juncker had made a "digital single market" one of its 10 priorities.

According to another leaked text from last December, digital commissioner Andrus Ansip told MEPs in an internal meeting that he would like to abolish roaming surcharges "immediately", but that big telecommunications companies "insisted on postponing until 2017".

Representatives of the member states and the parliament will now negotiate a final text, in talks mediated by the commission.

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