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Euro ministers ditch plan to ban roaming charges

National ministers do U-turn

Angry woman on mobile

Europe’s telco ministers appear to have done a U-turn over a proposed total removal of mobile phone roaming charges by the end of the year.

In 2013, the European Commission proposed a plan - backed by MEPs - to end costly roaming surcharges by the end of 2015. No longer would holidaymakers or business travellers be surprised and horrified by shock bills for calls or data sent and received outside of their home country.

This would have been part of the the so-called Telecoms Package, which includes proposals related to net neutrality.

But this utopian dream was shattered on Wednesday by the council of national telecoms ministers. According to the draft text on new EU rules for telecom providers seen by your correspondent, national representatives now argue that “a transitional period is needed to allow roaming providers to adapt to wholesale market conditions”.

Although an element of ex-Commissioner Steelie Neelie Kroes’ roam-like-at-home plan is retained - phone companies should offer a roaming allowance “at levels not exceeding those applicable for domestic services” - the council text says providers will be allowed to add a surcharge.

It does not specify what the basic allowance should be before companies can start slapping on the extra fees.

“EU member states should hang their heads in shame,” said Belgian MEP and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group leader Guy Verhofstadt.

Fellow ALDE member and Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake told El Reg. “How are they going to explain this u-turn to citizens? There isn’t even a review until 2018 [on] what further measures may be needed with a view to phasing out roaming charges."

Even ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators) whose members include Orange, O2 and Telefonica, was unimpressed with the changes. Chairman Steven Tas said: “A Regulation foreclosing new business models and weakening revenues isn't in anybody’s interest.

"In terms of roaming, we would recommend further refinement to the proposals in areas such as the basic roaming allowance, in order to avoid unnecessary implementation costs and a lengthy set-up period.

"Note that increasing numbers of mobile operators already provide options such as roaming at domestic prices as part of their existing consumer offerings.” ®

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