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The EU Declares an End to Retail Roaming Charges

By Dennis Jones

EU Declares an End to Roaming Charges

After months of difficult negotiation, the European Parliament finally banned roaming fees within the 28 member-states of the European Union. Mobile operators will no longer be able to levy steep surcharges on European consumers, who call, text, or use the mobile Internet, outside of their home country but within the EU. The measure, marketed directly towards holiday travelers who return home to find sky high roaming charges, will only come into full effect in June 2017. An interim cap to reduce roaming charges 75% will, however, begin next April. Although a clear victory for everyday consumers, the anti-roaming ban faced fierce opposition from national telecoms.

The European Parliament, spearheaded by British MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), waged a protracted battle with EU member states over the financial burden that banning roaming surcharges would place on national telecoms. National ministers in the European Council, in fact, even delayed enforcement, previously slated to begin at the end of the year. Critics of the ban also contend that mobile phone companies will push the resulting loss of revenue onto consumers, including non-travelers.

The new roaming ban also comes as part of a wider EU effort to create a Digital Single Market, providing better online access to digital goods and services across the EU. The EU’s Digital Single Market strategy also entails passing net neutrality legislation, which the European Parliament did as part of a comprehensive telecommunications law.

However, the new net neutrality law has also inspired its fair share of criticism, especially from open Internet advocates who claim it doesn’t go far enough to ensure true net neutrality, unlike the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) net neutrality rules. Among those critics are Etsy and Netflix, which contend that the new law unfairly affects smaller technology companies in the EU. In a letter to the European Parliament, Etsy and Netflix outlined how the law’s provision for congestion management still allows Internet Service Providers to slow down Internet traffic, even when there is no congestion.

Ultimately, the European member-states, not the European Parliament, will have to enforce the net neutrality ruling, which means the issue will remain very much alive as the EU scrambles to create policies that keep up with the rapid pace of technological change in the digital age.