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EU Bans Roaming Fees by 2017

But is the ban really the promised end of roaming fees in Europe?

By Dennis Jones

EU begins banning roaming fees

Last October, the European Parliament voted to scrap mobile roaming fees for calls, text, and data within the 28 member states of the EU. Intended to curb the costs of mobile connectivity while travelling, the ban will allow mobile phone users in the EU to pay the same price abroad that they do at home, without facing dreaded bill shock.

To give a sense of the scale of roaming fees before the ruling, Eldar Tuvey, CEO of mobile communications firm Wandera, estimated that roaming top-ups comprised as much as 10% of the average total cost of ownership of enterprise mobile devices in the U.K.

The European Parliament decided to stagger the ban in two stages. Beginning in late April, roaming costs were reduced to € .05 per minute, € .02 per text message, and € .20 per megabyte of data downloaded. The full ban will take effect June 15, 2017, with the responsibility to monitor and supervise compliance falling to national regulatory authorities.

But critics contend that banning roaming fees without pursuing comprehensive reform of the roaming wholesale market, where national operators trade their services, sharply diminishes the effectiveness of the ban. In the words of Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organisation: “Allowing companies to limit roaming rights for frequent travellers, for example, is certainly not the promised end of roaming in Europe. A real zero-roaming Europe hinges on a major telecom market reform.” Julia Reda, Member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party, delivered an even stronger rebuke:

Unfortunately, the Telecoms Single Market package does not deliver in that respect [on the elimination of roaming surcharges] either. The plan to place an end to roaming surcharges in Europe has been adopted pending a review of pricing and consumption patterns. Even if the review is completed by the 15 June 2017 deadline, roaming surcharges will only be suspended up to a ‘fair use’ limit beyond which they still apply and continue to hinder the breaking down of barriers within Europe.

These criticisms point to the fact that in the absence of regulatory reform, the elimination of roaming charges will almost certainly mean higher domestic prices, as (MNOs), especially in tourist-reliant countries in Southern Europe, seek to compensate for the loss of a significant revenue stream.  As a result, consumers and enterprises might soon start seeing new charges and higher prices as they sign up for new contracts or renew old ones.

Finally, even with the end of data roaming, businesses will still have to pay for the extra data needed to meet the demand of their employees, who rely heavily on cloud-based apps, video content, and video conferencing services that require enormous amounts of data.