After years of negotiation, the European Union’s plan to end roaming charges across the continent on 15 June 2017 is now a step closer. Negotiators from the European Parliament, Commission and Council this week agreed on price caps for the amount that carriers will pay one another when their when their customers call, send texts or use data within the EU.
“Goodbye roaming,” tweeted Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, the EU lawmaker who negotiated for setting wholesale rates on behalf of the European parliament.
Wholesale roaming charges have been fixed at EUR 7.70 per gigabyte from June 2017, reducing to EUR 2.50 per gigabyte in 2022. Phone calls will be set at EUR 0.032 per minute and sending a text will cost EUR 0.01 from June 2017. The caps will be reviewed every two years.
Wholesale charges for mobile data was one of the most controversial aspects of the deal, given Europe’s high mobile Internet consumption rates. And wide differences in national prices and consumption patterns made reaching a Europe-wide agreement over wholesale charges for data a difficult task. Caps needed to be low enough for operators offer roaming at no extra cost to customers without raising domestic prices, but high enough to recover their costs.
Price caps too high?
However, the price caps are set too high, argues MVNO Europe, which represents the interests of the Mobile Virtual Network Operators that serve more than 10% of the EU’s mobile customers.
“With excessive wholesale roaming charges, dominant mobile operators will be the only ones to drive the market, adding barriers for smaller players,” said MVNO Europe in a statement. “MVNOs, being the first-movers in offering innovative services, are therefore crucial for competition adding real value on the telecoms market and to end-users.”
Innocenzo Genna, MVNO Europe Vice-President, stated that, “European citizens expect the end of the roaming surcharges to happen without losing competitive tariffs and innovative offers: by contrast, with the present deal on wholesale caps, they will be heavily disappointed.”
Other regions will be watching
Roaming charges are, of course, an important issue for consumers and service providers worldwide. And getting the balance right is often a challenge for regulators. Harmonizing an agreement across borders can be even more challenging, which is why Europe’s moves will be watched across the world.
Other regional moves to end roaming charges include recent agreements by a group of west African nations to abolish international mobile voice roaming charges. On 31 March 2017, travelers between Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal will be able to make and receive calls as if they were in their own country. The move follows similar efforts across the continent in East Africa.