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European Parliament votes to end mobile roaming charges08 April 2014, by Alexandra Gowling
The European Parliament has voted to end roaming charges for mobile telephones and internet by Christmas 2015. The decision is part of a wider vote to support the European Commission’s proposed regulation for a single telecoms market in Europe, called "Connected Continent."
Connected Continent is designed to end roaming charges across the EU, ban blocking and degrading of content, co-ordinate spectrum licensing for wireless broadband, give customers more transparency in their contracts and make it easier for them to switch providers.
Announcing the vote, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes (Netherlands, VVD) said, "Nearly all of us depend on mobile and internet connections as part of our daily lives. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped-off and we should have the opportunity to change our mind. Companies should have the chance to serve all of us, and this regulation makes it easier for them to do that."
Cheaper phone calls in Europe
The EU does not have a genuine single market for electronic communications, as each member nation has its own national market. According to the Commission, there should not be different rights, different rules and different prices across Europe.
Therefore the plan proposes to ban incoming call charges in 2014, followed by offering companies a cheaper way to deliver EU-wide "Roam like at home" plans through lighter regulation.
If an operator does not offer "Roam like at home," consumers will be able to choose a domestic price plan from the country they are visiting when they get there, without needing a new number or second bill.
The plan will also make calls cheaper from within countries, with calls between member countries costing the same as calls within a member country. Other consumer rights include simpler ways to change contracts and the right to clearer information on contracts.
Net neutrality in Europe
Connected Continent also wants to make the internet more accessible for EU citizens, including ending the blocking and degrading of services, to ensure users have full access to the Internet regardless of their subscription.
According to the Commission, only four per cent of all Europeans have a guaranteed right to full and open Internet. Across the EU, 200 million subscribers are affected by blocking and throttling.
While consumers will still be able to choose their internet speed, companies will have to allow full, unrestricted access to the Internet, with guaranteed speed and quality. This means that companies can still provide faster service to people or organisations who require it, but they cannot take it away from other customers.
Customers would also have the right to check to see if they are getting the speed noted in their contract and would be able to walk away from the contract if that speed is not met.
Europeans want an end to roaming
The Commission conducted a survey of 18-34 year old Europeans to discover that only 37 per cent of them use mobile Internet when abroad, compared to 86 per cent at home.
A 23 year student from Finland said, "When you can literally jog to another country, I find it unbelievable I have to check my 3G is not on to avoid high charges. I also need multiple subscriptions with different numbers to avoid them."
Single European telecoms market
According to the Commission, the lack of a single market also means that the EU is losing out on a major source of potential economic growth.
One example offered by the Commission is the app economy, predicted to be worth 15 billion euros in 2016, up from 11 billion euros in 2013. Currently, this market supports nearly 800.000 jobs in the EU, with nearly half of them high-skill, high-pay software developer positions.
Another was the need to retain significant telecoms equipment production capacity, like acting faster on new technology like 4G mobile, to enable European manufacturers such as Ericsson and Nokia Siemens to sell to a home market that is the largest in the world.
Communication security issues
Finally, the Commission feels that Europe’s strategic interest is best served by having its own capacity to deliver secure cloud computing services.
"Europe should not be at the mercy of cloud computing providers outside of Europe," said Kroes. "Here is our chance to have a global European cloud player."
EU Member States are now reviewing the regulation and the Commission expects final agreement by the end of 2014.
Source: European Union