An informal deal to ban surcharges ("roaming fees") for making mobile phone calls, sending text messages or using the internet while abroad in another EU country from 15 June 2017 was struck by MEPs and EU ministers in the small hours of Tuesday morning. MEPs also inserted guarantees that all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination. To enter into force, this informal deal needs to be formally endorsed by the full Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
A press conference will take place today at 14.15 in the European Parliament press conference (Anna Politkovskaya) room with Industry Committee chair Jerzy Buzek (EPP, PL), rapporteur Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP, ES), European Commissioner Günther Oettinger and Edmunds Beļskis, director at the Latvian transport ministry. You can watch it live on EbS+ and EP Live.
Pilar Del Castillo (EPP, ES), Parliament's lead negotiator, said: "After an intense trialogue of 12 consecutive hours, at 2:20 a.m. today we won an agreement which will abolish roaming charges from June 2017. In addition, from April 2016 and until that date, Europeans will pay up to four times less when roaming in the EU.
The agreement also lays down in a regulation clear safeguards for open internet access, in other words, guarantees that everyone has the right to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services and use the terminal equipment of their choice, irrespective of their location, origin or destination of the service, information or content.
This agreement means very tangible benefits for all Europeans and economic sectors and constitutes an important step forward in the development of the Digital Single Market".
No “roaming” charges after 15 June 2017
Under the deal no “roaming” charges, on top of what users pay at home, will be allowed after 15 June 2017. Prices for using a mobile phone while abroad in another EU country will in fact be reduced substantially as soon as 30 April 2016. From that date, the maximum surcharge for voice calls made abroad will be 5 euro cents per minute (down from current 19 euro cents retail cap), whereas text messages (SMS) will cost only an additional 2 euro cents (down from 6 euro cents retail cap today) and 5 euro cents per megabyte (20 eurocents retail cap today). These are ceilings, so operators are free to offer cheaper rates.
However, to protect the industry against abuses such as “permanent roaming”, the deal provides for a "fair use” clause (to be defined by the EU Commission and telecoms regulators).
EU member states won a stipulation that if operators can prove that they cannot recover their costs and that this affects domestic prices, national regulatory authorities may authorize them to impose minimal surcharges in exceptional circumstances to recover these costs.
MEPs won guarantees that national regulatory authorities would have the means to amend or reject the surcharges if they are unfounded.
MEPs inserted wording to "safeguard equal and non-discriminatory treatment of traffic" on the internet. Internet providers would not be permitted to block or slow down internet speeds for certain services for commercial reasons. Internet traffic could be “managed” only to deal with temporary or exceptional congestion, protect against cyber-attacks or in response to a court order or a legal obligation. If such traffic management measures are needed, they would have to be "transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate and may not be maintained longer than necessary.
An operator would nonetheless be able to offer specialized services (e.g. the improved internet quality needed for certain services), but only on condition that this does not have an impact on general internet quality.
At Parliament’s request, the deal includes a provision to give consumers a right to better information about their contacts. Until 15 June 2017, consumers will continue to be informed by text message (SMS) of roaming tariffs when they go abroad and thereafter in the exceptional case of the “fair use” clause being triggered. As to internet quality, consumers will be informed, in clear language, about the minimum, normally available and maximum internet speeds they can expect when signing a contract. If the operator does not deliver the promised speeds, this would be deemed to be a breach of contract.
The agreed text will need to be formally approved by Parliament (Industry Committee and Parliament as a whole) and the Council of Ministers before it can enter into force. The dates for this will be decided later this year.