Mobile roaming charges are set to be abolished in all 28 member states by June 2017 as part of an overhaul of Europe’s telecoms market to boost growth and innovation.
The European Union reached a deal on Tuesday and said in a statement that roaming fees would be scrapped “as of 15 June 2017”. The deal also ordered telecom operators to treat all internet traffic equally to protect net neutrality and companies will be allowed to add surcharges to their domestic rates for a 14-month interim period from April 2016.
However, the net neutrality rules will allow blocking of counter cyber-attacks and peak periods. 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 said this could lead to a two-speed internet benefiting firms with deep pockets.
The deal on the telecoms single market reforms, also known as Connected Continent, was brokered by the Latvians, who hammered out a compromise between the member states, the European Parliament and the Commission. It was the culmination of three years' of to and fro between the parties.
Günther Oettinger, the German commissioner who oversees part of digital policy, said: “I welcome today's crucial agreement to finally end roaming charges and establish pragmatic net neutrality rules throughout the EU. Both are essential for consumers and businesses.”
Anrijs Matiss, the Latvian minister for transport, said: “This is a great success for the European Union and the Latvian presidency.”
However, not everyone was pleased. Vicky Ford, UK’s MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, took to Twitter to express her frustration last night as the provisional deal was finally done at around 2 a.m.: “Still in negotiations on Roaming and Net Neutrality. Taking cat herding to new extremes…”
From April 2016 surcharges for mobile data will be capped at maximum of 0.05 Euro cents per minute for calls, 0.02 for SMSs and 0.05 per megabyte for data. The details of the deal will need to be fine-tuned and approved by each party in the coming days.