After a decade of procrastination, Europe finally ends roaming charges

They did it, they actually did it. After a decade of debating, contemplating and teasing, our delicate bureaucrats have finally put an end to roaming charges. Well, almost.

Data roaming charges have plagued consumers around the world, and the European Commission (hereafter known as the Gaggle of Red-tapers) made the commitment back in 2006 to address the challenge. In the typical breakneck speed which we have all come to admire from the Gaggle of Red-tapers, the latest announcement states data roaming charges will be a thing of the past as of 2022.

Representatives of representatives of the European Parliament, the European Council and our glorious Gaggle of Red-tapers managed to come to an agreement which will see wholesale caps of 3.2 cents per minute of voice call and 1 cent per SMS, as of 15 June 2017, as well as a sliding scale to reduce the cost of data usage when outside your domestic market.

Over the next five years, data caps will be introduced at €7.7 per GB as of 15 June 2017. decreasing to €6 per GB on 1 January 2018, €4.5 per GB on 1 January 2019, €3.5 per GB on 1 January 2020, €3 per GB on 1 January 2021 and €2.5 per GB on 1 January 2022. And who said the Gaggle of Red-tapers aren’t switched on? By the time roaming charges will be officially ‘ended’, according to the Gaggle of Red-tapers, the mission would have only taken 16 years.

“This was the last piece of the puzzle. As of 15 June, Europeans will be able to travel in the EU without roaming charges,” said Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Gaggle’s Digital Single Market.

“We have also made sure that operators can continue competing to provide the most attractive offers to their home markets. Today we deliver on our promise. I warmly thank the European Parliament rapporteur Miapetra Kumpula-Natri and all the negotiators from the European Parliament as well as the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU and all those involved in achieving this milestone. Their efforts made it happen.”

While the lumbering pace of the Gaggle of Red-tapers can shoulder the blame for the amount of time it has taken to address this universal pain-point, it is not the only reason. There have been concerns from both the telco industry and the consumer, as well as disagreements between the various levels of bureaucracy in the European Union.

Firstly, the pricing had to be fair to ensure operators who were present in tourist destinations could adequately fund their network. Certain regions in Spain for example see mammoth increases in traffic during the holiday season, but relatively quiet otherwise. Without increased charges on the data usage, it would be difficult for operators to invest suitably in the network to ensure the bandwidth for meeting the demands of peak season, while also making a profit.

Another concern was those crafty consumers who may take advantage of a circumstance where roaming charges would be cheaper than the domestic offering. It was possible that brands could be developed solely to take advantage of cheaper roaming charges, benefiting from other operator’s networks, and pocketing the profit. Striking a balance on an adequate pricing plan was a bit more complicated than first set out.

However, perhaps the most baffling complication was the bickering which we started to see between the European Parliament, European Council and the Gaggle of Red-tapers. There is nothing wrong with each body having different ideas on how much charges should be set at, but this is a discussion to have around the negotiating table. Instead, each escalated the argument by publishing their own prices, which varied quite considerably.

Perhaps it was too much to ask for bureaucrats, who are supposedly overseeing the migration to the digital economy, to act like adults. Instead we saw an image of bickering children, unable to come to an agreement and therefore throwing a temper tantrum. The lack of maturity delayed the implementation.

So yes, we finally have, in theory, limits on data roaming charges, which seem reasonable. Now all we have to do is wait five years for them.

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