Milestone agreement to end roaming charges is hailed

Times of Malta, June 30, 2015

The European Parliament and EU Member States have agreed to end mobile phone roaming charges completely from June 2017.

The deal, announced last night, was welcomed by Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola.  She said that while roaming prices will decrease drastically next year, they will be completely phased out by June 2017.

The agreement means that as of June 15, 2017, consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data as at home wherever they are travelling in the EU, with no extra charge.

“We have come a long way. This makes us more competitive and is good news for consumers, for businesses, for Malta and removes yet another barrier to a true single digital market in Europe,” Dr Metsola said.

“Ever since I was elected as MEP for Malta and Gozo and as a Member of the Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee (IMCO), this has been an issue I have constantly pushed forward. I am delighted that there is finally an agreement and a concrete date to end this outdated and unfair business practice that so many people have wanted gone. We would have preferred had the charges been phased out completely even this year, but this is a delicate compromise and some States needed a transitional period
to implement this fully.”

The agreement also features Net Neutrality provisions that guarantee an open and neutral Internet that protects the right of every citizen to access the Internet without discrimination.

The agreement will now have to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament.  Last night’s deal came after a final 12-hour round of negotiations.

Eastern European countries had expressed fears that operators might hike domestic prices if roaming charges were removed prematurely, while countries with a lot of tourists, such as Spain and Greece, had benefited from higher tariffs.

The delay angered consumer rights groups who accused member states of defending the interests of their national operators.

In an interim move, roaming charges will drop in April 2016, with maximum surcharges of 0.05 euros per minute of a call or megabyte of data and 0.02 euros per text sent.

That will make the maximum roaming charge about 75 percent cheaper than under current tariff caps, the European Commission said.

The European Commission has been setting caps on roaming prices since 2007 and says that retail prices for cross-border calls, texts and data have fallen by more than 80 percent and for data by up to 91 percent.

On the issue of net neutrality, the EU plans to order telecoms operators to treat all Internet traffic equally and that blocking would only be allowed for clear reasons, such as counter cyber attacks or child pornography.

Companies such as Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Telecom Italia had lobbied to have more leeway to tap into a potentially lucrative source of revenue, but Internet activists say this could create a two-speed Internet that benefits companies with deep pockets.

The rules could benefit start-ups that showcase their business or sell on the Internet and need to be able to compete on an equal footing with larger players. The latter would not be able to pay for privileged access to end-users.

“The access to a start-up’s website will not be unfairly slowed down to make way for bigger companies. No service will be stuck because it does not pay an additional fee to Internet service providers. There won’t be gatekeepers to decide what you can and cannot access,” the Commission said.

The common EU-wide Internet rules are to enter force in all 28 members on April 30, 2016.