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EU roaming charges officially scrapped but net neutrality questions remain

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As the EU confirmed its complete ban on roaming charges takes effect in June 2017 its ‘clear rules on the right to internet access’ have come under fire. It has been criticised for confusing the public and ignoring wider issues of net neutrality. Some critics even insist the ban is unenforceable.

In a vote in the EU Parliament, the law to ban roaming fees for calling, sending text messages and using the mobile internet abroad in the EU (and in EEA countries) was given final approval. The debate was attended by was attended by only 50 MEPs out of the European Parliament’s total of 751 and proposed amendments to other aspect of the Telecoms Single Package were rejected.

By not accepting any amendments to the Council’s position in first reading, MEPs adopted the new law. From 30 April 2016 roaming surcharges (added to the price paid at home) must not exceed €0.05 per minute for outgoing voice calls, €0.02 for text messages (SMS) or €0.05 per megabyte of mobile internet use.

However, to protect the industry against abuses such as permanent roaming (where people buy a phone in one of Europe’s developing economies with lower tariffs) mobile operators could in certain circumstances be allowed to charge a small fee, lower than current caps, according to a “fair use” policy.

According to German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda, this gives telcos room to wiggle out of the regulations. With the ruling subject to a review of pricing and consumption patterns, the 15 June 2017 deadline is unlikely to be met and roaming surcharges will only be suspended up to a ‘fair use’ limit beyond which they still apply, said Reda.

“Bill shock from holidaying in the EU affects more than 9 million UK mobile users a year according to our research.” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.

“But the major concern is if and how mobile operators will recover their costs because we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If this regulation change isn’t properly managed, higher mobile phone bills for all may just prove to be the sting in the tail, with infrequent travellers drawing the short straw.”

Meanwhile the issue of true net neutrality, a less publicised component of the bill, was sidelined in order to push through the crowd pleasing roaming charge ban, said Reda “Unfortunately Ansip [Andrus Ansip, the vice-commissioner responsible for the EU Digital Market] claims amendments would delay package by years,” Reda tweeted, “Actually it’s only 6 weeks until the 3rd reading.”


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