EU clears fi­nal hur­dle for end­ing mo­bile roam­ing charges

Global Times - Weekend - - TECH -

Euro­pean law­mak­ers clinched a deal early on Wed­nes­day to cap the whole­sale charges mo­bile ser­vice op­er­a­tors pay each other to en­able their cus­tomers to use their mo­bile phones in other Euro­pean coun­tries, paving the way for the abo­li­tion of roam­ing fees in June.

The caps on whole­sale roam­ing charges were the last piece of the puz­zle needed for the abo­li­tion of re­tail roam­ing charges on June 15, 2017, to en­sure com­pa­nies can af­ford to con­tinue of­fer­ing roam­ing within the EU once they can no longer charge re­tail cus­tomers for the ser­vice.

Un­der Wed­nes­day’s agree­ment be­tween law­mak­ers and the Coun­cil of EU mem­ber states, whole­sale charges for data – which were the most con­tro­ver­sial given the ex­po­nen­tial use of mo­bile In­ter­net – will be capped at 7.7 eu­ros ($8.31) per gi­ga­byte from June 2017, go­ing down to 2.5 eu­ros per gi­ga­byte in 2022.

Caps for mak­ing calls will de­crease from 5 euro cents per minute to 3.2 euro cents per minute, while those for send­ing text mes­sages will be halved to 1 euro cent from 2 euro cents as of June, said the Coun­cil.

“Good­bye roam­ing,” tweeted Mi­a­pe­tra Kumpu­laNa­tri, the EU law­maker who ne­go­ti­ated for the set­ting of whole­sale rates on be­half of the Euro­pean par­lia­ment.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion will re­view the whole­sale caps ev­ery two years and pro­pose new ones if nec­es­sary.

Wed­nes­day’s deal still needs to be con­firmed by the full Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and all mem­ber states.

The decade-long bat­tle against roam­ing charges took on an added sig­nif­i­cance af­ter Bri­tain voted to quit the bloc last year in a surge of anti-EU sen­ti­ment, mak­ing Brus­sels keen to demon­strate the ben­e­fits of mem­ber­ship to or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

“To­day we de­liver on our prom­ise,” said An­drus An­sip, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion vice pres­i­dent.

But af­ter the agree­ment to abol­ish re­tail roam­ing charges in June this year, pol­i­cy­mak­ers grap­pled with the chal­lenge of who would foot the bill as tele­com op­er­a­tors still need to pay each other to keep their cus­tomers con­nected abroad.

The dif­fi­culty was com­pounded by wide dif­fer­ences in do­mes­tic prices and con­sump­tion pat­terns across the bloc, mak­ing a whole­sale cap that suited all na­tional mar­kets ex­tremely hard to set­tle.

Coun­tries in north­ern and east­ern Europe where con­sumers gob­ble up mo­bile data at low prices fa­vored lower whole­sale caps to avoid com­pa­nies rais­ing prices in their home mar­kets, ef­fec­tively mak­ing poorer cus­tomers sub­si­dize fre­quent trav­el­ers.

How­ever coun­tries in south­ern Europe where tourism is vi­tal to their economies wor­ried that if whole­sale prices were too low their op­er­a­tors could be forced to raise do­mes­tic prices to re­cover the costs.

While politi­cians were quick to pro­claim the end of roam­ing charges, some mo­bile ser­vice op­er­a­tors warned that the whole­sale caps were still too high, which would force smaller op­er­a­tors to limit their “roam like at home” of­fers.

“Euro­pean cit­i­zens ex­pect the end of the roam­ing sur­charges to hap­pen with­out los­ing com­pet­i­tive tar­iffs and in­no­va­tive of­fers,” said In­no­cenzo Genna, vice pres­i­dent of MVNO Europe. “With the present deal on whole­sale caps, they will be heav­ily dis­ap­pointed.”

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