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Europe can’t make up its mind over roaming charges

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The European Council has weighed into the on-going data roaming charges debate, publishing its thoughts on what caps should be and it’s the highest so far.

Data roaming charges have long been a pain-point for consumers around the world, and the European Commission has been paying attention, even if doing very little. The debate to develop data roaming caps which are sustainable for operators, but at the same time fair to consumers has been lumbering on since 2006, however there did seem to be some forward momentum this year.

Back in June, the European Commission set roaming charges at a maximum of €0.04/min for calls, €0.01/SMS and €8.5/GB for data throughout the EU, though the European Parliament’s proposal last month put the charges for data at €4/GB, falling to €1/GB by 2021. Last week, the European Council decided it needed to weigh in with its proposed caps of €10/GB from mid-2017, falling to €5/GB by mid-2021. The Council believes calls should be capped at €0.0353/min and SMS €0.01 per message.

Any confused onlookers who are wondering why the data roaming rates saga has stumbled on for more than a decade only have to look at this example for the reason. If official bodies are constantly undermining each other what chances to positive change are there. Those who may sit in the sceptical camp may not be surprised the European gaggle of red-tapers are unable to come to an agreement.

“Who does not wish to remain connected and to communicate when travelling or on holiday?” said Arpád Érsek, Slovak Minister for Transport, Construction and Regional Development, who also happens to be the Chair of the Council.

“Abolition of roaming charges is in the eyes of many the most concrete achievement of the Union. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we meet our citizens’ expectations. I welcome today´s swift decision by the Council to agree on wholesale roaming caps to enable negotiations with the European Parliament and make roam-like-at-home reality as of next year.”

One of the main arguments here is the investment into the networks. Some believe a cap would undermine any future investment into infrastructure, as a cap would negate the potential for ROI. Take for example regions such as Spain. The country sees a significant number of tourists enter the country for short periods of the year, all demanding efficient access to Facebook and Kim Kardashian’s Instagram, but the network would remain under-utilized for the rest of the year. Without higher charges it would become infeasible for such regions to offer relevant services during the peak season, as the ROI wouldn’t be there.

Another concern was the idea of permanently roaming customers, those who have a cheap contract in a foreign country but never spend any time in the operator’s domestic market. The operator is gaining the financial rewards, without having to invest in its own domestic infrastructure. To counter these concerns, the European Commission has set out some guidelines in September which you can see here, though it is still a work in progress.

An end to data roaming charges is something which the consumer world has been demanding for a long-time considering the lifecycle of the mass market mobile phone, though contradictions and bickering from the gaggle will make things more complicated. Progress is being made, but it is painfully slow. We’ll get there, eventually, we hope…


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