If you’ve travelled overseas since smartphones became commonplace, you may know a thing or two about being hit by international roaming fees.
But in a welcome move that will hopefully have positive effects internationally, the European commissioner for digital policies, Neelie Kroes, has encouraged law makers to abolish roaming fees for European Union countries completely.
The proposed regulations mean that Europeans will able to make and receive calls and texts and download data within the EU for the same price as they would domestically, saving them substantial amounts in international roaming charges.
The EU’s decision
The European Commission voted on the ruling, and plans to push the official legislation through before the May 2014 European elections. A legal proposal for the ban will be published at the end of July, and put to national leaders in October.
The downside is that the new rules won’t affect roaming outside of Europe for European customers, or fees charged to international travellers within the EU. So, for example, Americans travelling to Europe will still be hit with high roaming fees, and vice versa for Europeans heading to the US.
This isn’t the first EU policy change addressing the high cost of roaming. Caps on charges incurred by using a mobile phone in Europe were introduced in 2007, effectively stopping billions of euros in excess usage fees being raked in by European phone companies each year.
And starting in July 2014, customers are to be able to purchase roaming packages from any operator regardless of which carrier they’re under contract with, in a move originally designed to help bring down roaming prices. The EU’s plan to abolish roaming fees will override this decision.
Ending the telecommunications ‘cartels’
Besides making things fairer for consumers themselves, the move is intended to help encourage Europe’s numerous network operators to consolidate, and potentially create mergers or partnerships in order to create stronger networks and promote competition.
The European Commission has criticised the ‘cartel-like’ situation European carriers have created regarding roaming charges within the EU. In a union of 27 national markets – where travellers are charged each time they cross a border with their phone – the fees can quickly add up.
However, some industry experts have expressed concern that carriers will, in turn, raise their domestic fees in order to compensate for the loss in roaming revenue if the legislation passes.
The industry reaction
Compared to other countries, basic mobile service in the EU is relatively less expensive due to increased competition – meaning roaming fees are a big source of profit for European operators. Unsurprisingly, telecommunications companies have already began protesting the proposed changes.
The European Telecommunications Network Operator’s Association stated that the industry needs ‘a much less intrusive and simplified regulatory framework’, with telcos concerned that they’ll lose millions of euros in revenue under the new proposal.
As European telecommunications companies are also expected to be investing in the construction of new, modern broadband networks, the industry is arguing that funds needed for construction will be depleted by the loss of profits if the new laws go through.
Most of the EU carriers are already selling special roaming packages that allow customers to make and receive unlimited texts and voice calls, and avoid excessive data charges when roaming across selected European countries. The proposed changes would see these packages become obsolete.
What will be interesting is if this move sets a precedent for other countries to attempt to curb excessive roaming charges. It’s something that consumers have demanded for a long time, but as a nice source of profits for network operators, it’s unlikely all carriers will give up charging for overseas roaming without a fight.
Image credit: Horia Varlan at Flickr