EU abolishes roaming charges across Europe

Huge telephone bills ruining your holiday budget, an Internet connection not delivering on its promises: these experiences will be soon old memories.The EU has reached an agreement to abolish roaming charges across Europe from June 2017.

The announcement follows a statement from the European Council earlier this year in which it was indicated that the charges would remain in some form until 2018, but Wednesday's agreement brings that date forward by more than a year.

Welcoming the agreement, The EU Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, said, "Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a Digital Single Market. Our plans to make it happen were fully endorsed by Heads of State and Government last week, and we should move faster than ever on this."

The EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther H. Oettinger, said: "I welcome today's crucial agreement to finally end roaming charges and establish pragmatic net neutrality rules throughout the EU. Both are essential for consumers and businesses in today’s European digital economy and society. We will build on these important foundations in our forthcoming review of the EU's telecoms legislation."

The EU has worked steadily over the past number of years to tackle roaming charges on behalf of consumers.

Since the 2007 introduction of the Eurotariff, charges have been consistently reduced as caps were placed on the maximum permissible amount operators could impose on consumers. The most recent reduction came into effect in July 2014.

These caps have seen fees for roaming drop by 80% since 2007, with data roaming charges in particular falling by up to 91%. For context, the data roaming market has grown by 630% in that time period.

As part of its Connected Continent drive, the EU is working to develop a telecoms single market.

Ending roaming charges has been a priority for some time, as it seeks to remove barriers to mobile phone use abroad. It is hoped that not only will this alleviate a burden on consumers, but also provide greater accessibility for businesses and start-ups to sell online to consumers travelling abroad.

The agreement will see roaming charges cease to exist in the EU from 15th June 2017. In order to achieve this, a number of technical conditions must be fulfilled.

Most particularly, the institutions are seeking a thorough review of the wholesale roaming market so as to ensure that the abolition of roaming fees is sustainable throughout the Member States.

The agreement also proposes a “fair use” safeguard. This is with a view to preventing permanent roaming, i.e. situations where a consumer buys a SIM card in another Member State in order to avail of favourable domestic tariffs in their country of residence, or a consumer continuing to use a domestic subscription while based abroad.

Under the fair use safeguard, a usage limit will be put in place and once this is reached, operators may then charge a small basic fee. The Commission stressed that this fee will be much lower than current caps and will likely be further decreased over time.