The European Commission (EC), European Parliament and the Council of European Union (EU) Member States have come to a firm agreement on putting an end to mobile roaming charges in the EU, and guaranteeing net neutrality.
The measures will be made possible by a wide-ranging overhaul of EU-wide telecoms legislation to take place next year. The EC says this will include a more effective approach to EU-level spectrum co-ordination, regulation in each member state, incentives for operators to invest in superfast mobile broadband networks and a review of the wholesale roaming market – the prices that operators charge each other to use their networks.
It said that “creating the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish” was a “key objective” of its plans for a single digital market.
The decision reverses a previous reversal by the EU, when it backtracked on plans to phase out mobile roaming charges in 2015 and said it was unlikely there would be any movement on the issue before 2018.
Mandate for capped charges
The most recent agreement means mobile roaming charges around Europe now look set to end completely on 15 June 2017 – two years later than had originally been hoped, but a year before the EC had been set to revisit the issue.
In its statement, the EC pointed out that prices for roaming calls, SMS and data had already dropped by 80%, and would get cheaper still from April 2016, when new caps at €0.05 per minute, €0.02 per SMS and €0.05 per MB of data will come into effect.
“Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard,” said EC vice-president for the single digital market, Andrus Ansip.
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“We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a single digital market. Our plans to make it happen were fully endorsed by heads of state and government last week, and we should move faster than ever on this.”
The EC said that being able to move around Europe without the fear of running up huge mobile phone bills would not only be beneficial to tourists, but would present more opportunities for online businesses and startups to offer innovative services and boost the app economy.
Net neutrality guaranteed
The EC also moved to enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law, meaning users will be free to access the content of their choice without being blocked or throttled, and making paid traffic prioritisation illegal, with appropriate safeguards in place with public interest exceptions, such as network security, internet service provider (ISP) network management or content such as child pornography.
The EC’s proposals on net neutrality will safeguard the ability of ISPs to offer specialised services of higher quality, such as internet TV, and future innovative services – so long as they do not provide those services at the expense of the quality of service received by other customers.
It said the rules – set to come into force in April 2016 – will be the strongest and most comprehensive open internet rules in the world.
They will help avoid fragmentation across the single market and create greater legal certainty for businesses operating in multiple EU states, said the EC.
“In a single digital market we cannot afford 28 member states to adopt 28 different approaches on that issue,” said the EC. “The freedom of European citizens to access or distribute internet content must not depend on the country they are in.”