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Brussels proposes new rules to stop abuse of roaming charge rules

The European College of Commissioners has proposed new rules to help prevent abuse of the end of mobile roaming charges across the EU

European commissioners have proposed a revised draft of rules needed to avoid abuses of the end of mobile roaming charges in the European Union (EU), which are due to come into effect in June 2017.

In formulating its proposals, the College of Commissioners discussed a new approach to the principle of fair use, and agreed there should be no limit in terms of timing or data allowances imposed on consumers when using their devices outside their home market, despite the varying costs and conditions imposed on users by individual operators in the EU member states.

At the same time, it said, the proposed new approach provides a “solid safeguard mechanism for operators against potential abuses”.

The proposed abuse prevention mechanism will be based on the principle of residence or stable links to an EU member state. In practice, this means that all travellers using a SIM card bought and registered in a member state in which they live – or have stable links to a member state – will be able to use their device as they would at home, without limitations or restrictions in all 28 other EU states.

Stable links, in the EC’s mind, include people who commute across EU borders to work, expats who frequently return to their home country, or students on the Erasmus programme.

At the same time, mobile operators will be empowered to check usage patterns to avoid abuse of the “roam like at home” mechanism. Abuse could be based on a number of criteria, which will include insignificant domestic traffic compared to roaming traffic; long inactivity of a SIM card that is being used mostly outside its domestic market; and subscription and sequential use of multiple SIM cards by the same person while roaming.

The EC will enable operators to apply small surcharges in such circumstances, up to a maximum of €0.04 per call, €0.01 per text, and €0.0085 per megabyte of data. Complaints and compliance will be handed by national regulators, such as Ofcom.

Read more about mobile roaming charges

The rules also allow for operators to temporarily apply the same surcharges if they can demonstrate that their domestic charging model is at risk due to, for example, price increases in another EU market, or other, unspecified “negative effects”.

“Commission action on roaming prices has delivered for European consumers,” said Günther Oettinger, European commissioner for the digital economy and society. “These draft rules ensure we can end roaming charges as of 15 June 2017 for all people who travel periodically in the EU, while ensuring that operators have the tools to guard against abuse of the rules.”

The College of Commissioners is set to adopt the final proposals by 15 December 2016, after feedback from regulators, EU governments and operators.

The regulations will apply to the UK for as long as it remains a member of the EU, and it is thought likely that the UK government – which has been a driving force in European telecoms regulation – will work with operators, many of which have already eliminated roaming charges in a number of EU states through commercial partnership agreements, to maintain a similar arrangement after Brexit is concluded.

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