Tuesday saw a success in the long-running battle between the European Union and telecommunications companies over mobile phone roaming charges; a problem that plagues holidaymakers across Europe.
The Plenary of the European Parliament has finally adopted an agreement reached in June and formally adopted by the Council on 1 October, to end roaming charges for use of minutes, text messages and data within a consumer’s contractual allowance (and a “fair usage safeguard”). This will be welcomed by the fifth of holidaymakers who, in a recent U-Switch survey, have found their bill, on average, £61 higher than usual when returning from a trip in Europe within the past year.
The new regulation is scheduled to come into force as of mid-2017, with June being a favourite month for it to happen. This builds on the framework networks such as Three, with its Feel At Home plan, already provide for their customers using a phone while abroad in the EU. Before this happens there will be a transition period which sees a reduction in the cost of current roaming charges, effective as of 30 April 2016. A change to the Telecoms Rules means operators will only be allowed to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices for calls, texts and data usage, capped at a maximum of €0.05, €0.02 and €0.05 respectively.
Reading the small print, there is an exception to the regulation where the provision of roaming services at domestic prices would make the charging model of a domestic operator unsustainable and thereby risk increases in the domestic prices of that operator. There may simply be cases where the provider cannot absorb the additional cost of consumers using their services abroad. Potentially this means that consumers wanting to use their data allowance in such countries would be charged a surcharge for roaming. If this is the case, it is expected that on these occasions we will see a similar framework to that currently in place.
The European Commission is nevertheless hopeful that by June 2017 the wholesale costs of operators offering roaming will have sufficiently decreased by market forces or through another regulatory intervention, for charges to be unnecessary. Talking about the decision, Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip has said that “[t]his is not only about money; this is about bringing down barriers in the Digital Single Market. Today’s achievement is a first step towards a Telecoms Single Market”.
It is still worth bearing in mind the possible instances where “free” roaming, calls and text messages will not be “free”. This change nevertheless looks to be highly positive for Europe and consumers of telecommunications services within the Union. It will therefore be exciting to see whether the plan goes ahead as it currently stands, and whether in the meantime it faces any further complications along the way.