Electronic communication in Europe could become significantly cheaper and more efficient, under rules to be voted on by MEPs on 3 April. Internet providers would no longer be able to block or slow down internet services provided by their competitors and "roaming charges" for using your phone in another EU country would be abolished starting from 15 December 2015. To find out more about how it will affect you, read our Q&A.
What’s the problem anyway?
Europe suffers from a fragmented market. Its more than 200 telecom operators, subject to disparate rules, impose vastly different charges on their customers.
Why should we care?
Because it costs a lot. The fragmentation of the telecoms market is estimated to cost Europe €110 billion a year, the equivalent of 0.9% of the gross domestic product.
So it’s bad for the economy, but why should it concern me?
Two reasons: prices and quality. According to a European Commission survey published in February 2014, 94% of Europeans who travel outside their home country limit their use of the web, including social media such as Facebook, because of the cost of mobile roaming.
Maybe I don’t care about social media when travelling. What about the quality?
EU telecoms regulator BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) reported that several internet providers were blocking or slowing down VoIP services, such as Skype, which are used to make phone calls over the internet.
True. So what will the European Parliament do about it?
Under proposals to be voted on 3 April roaming charges will be abolished: making a call or sending an email from a mobile phone in another EU country would cost the same as doing so at home and Parliament want this to start no later than 15 December 2015.
Net neutrality would also be safeguarded: internet providers would no longer be able to block or slow down internet services provided by their competitors.
By managing the radio spectrum more efficiently, more space would be freed up for mobile data and 4G/5G deployment.
In a separate vote, MEPs will also decide on new rules to give people, companies and public authorities an easy and secure way to sign and certify online documents.
That all sounds really good. What’s next?
Pilar del Castillo, a Spanish member of the EPP group, is responsible for steering the telecoms package through Parliament. MEPs vote on it on 3 April. One of the priorities for the next Parliament will be to strike a deal with the national goverments on this.
Marita Ulvskog, a Swedish member of the S&D group, is responsible for the cross-border electronic identification proposal. After the Parliament has voted on it, it will still need to be formally endorsed by the Councili.