EU member states on Wednesday delayed abolishing mobile phone
Brussels - AFP
EU member states on Wednesday delayed abolishing mobile phone roaming charges from the end of this year until at least 2018, but insisted customers would still get a fair deal.
They also recommended an overall policy of "net neutrality," meaning unfettered access to the Internet, but allowed certain exceptions at odds with the US position that there should be completely unhindered use.
Roaming charges vary enormously between telecoms operators and many users complain they pay exorbitant rates to make calls when travelling within the 28-nation European Union.
In response, the bloc has steadily whittled down the charges and the European Parliament last year approved a "roam-like-at-home" telecoms package which would have ended them altogether from end-2015.
But the European Council, which groups the member state governments, decided Wednesday to send the package back to Parliament, arguing that a new pricing mechanism should in the meantime mean lower costs.
"Within certain limits to be determined, consumers could make and receive calls, send SMSs and use data services without paying anything extra on top of the domestic fee," it said in a statement.
"Once this basic roaming allowance is used up, the operator may charge a fee but this fee will be much lower than current charges," it said.
"As the next step, the (European) Commission will be asked to assess by mid-2018 what further measures may be needed with a view to phasing out roaming charges."
Last week after years of controversy, the US telecoms regulator put in place "open Internet" rules to prevent operators offering different rates of access depending on fees or the services offered.
The EU package enshrined the same principle but it also opens the door to different service levels, something industry groups have demanded but which the US regulator excluded.
"As regards services other than those providing internet access, agreements on services requiring a specific level of quality will be allowed," the Council said.
Major European telecoms groups welcomed this provision as giving them enough leeway to develop new business models.
"Fostering the innovative and investment potential of the telecom sector is instrumental to achieving a more prosperous Europe," the ETNO telecoms industry association said.
"A regulation foreclosing new business models and weakening revenues isn’t in anybody’s interest," it said.
The Council, the Commission and the European Parliament will take up the package proposals shortly but final legislation is likely to take several years.