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EU poised on roaming agreement (again)

Compromise rates annoy everyone

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The EU's much debated roaming agreement is set to take a step forward if a modified proposal is accepted by the majority in a vote tomorrow.

If approved, it will be voted on by the member states on 7 June.

While there is broad approval for a capped "Euro tariff", a fixed-rate tariff which all operators in Europe will be required to offer, how high that tariff should be has been fiercely debated.

The other area of dispute has been if customers should automatically be moved to the tariff when it comes into force (opt out), or should be required to call their network operator to select the tariff (opt in).

As ever, the compromise is complex.

The current proposal is that wholesale roaming rates (the amount operators charge each other) should be set at €0.30 per minute, but should then decrease by €0.02 every year for the three years of the agreement.

Outgoing calls, when roaming, will be set at €0.49 a minute, incoming at €0.24, with both dropping by €0.03 a year except for the first year when incoming calls will drop by only €0.02.

To put that in perspective, the GSMA has said the industry can't survive without charging at least €0.65 for outgoing calls, while the German EU presidency wanted the rate set at €0.60. The original proposal called for the rate to be €0.40. So this compromise should annoy everyone with equal measure.

Customers will be able to move in and out of the Euro tariff without charge, but three months after it's introduced any customers who haven't actively requested a different tariff will be automatically migrated into the Euro option, giving network operators a real incentive to promote their alternatives.

Assuming the vote passes tomorrow, the proposal goes before the member states on 7 June, and should pass into law a couple of weeks after that. It might seem that the roaming debate has been dragging on for far too long, but considering the original proposal was only drafted in February, this is almost a land-speed record for the EU. ®

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