Communicating while travelling will be made easier and cheaper, as the EU extends the four fundamental freedoms set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to add the free movement of data as a new freedom in the single market. The abolition of mobile telephone roaming surcharges throughout the EU, which will take effect from 15 June 2017, will enable mobile users living in the EU and visiting other EU countries to call, text or surf the web at the same cost as if they were at home. Shortly after that date the benefits will be extended to the members of the European Economic Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
The European Parliament approved the requisite regulations (Regulation No 532/2012, as amended by Regulation No 2015/2120) on 6 April 2017, and on 25 April the EU Council adopted the legal act limiting the amount operators can charge each other to allow mobile roaming across the EU. This go-ahead by the Council marks the last legal step required before both institutions sign the text in mid-May for publication in the EU Official Journal, abolishing mobile roaming fees and initiating “roam like at home”.
When the changes take effect in mid-June 2017 the maximum permitted wholesale roaming prices will be reduced to 3.2 euro cents per minute for voice calls and 1 euro cent per text. Charges for data downloads will be reduced in stages, decreasing to €2.5 per GB by the beginning of 2022.
Of course, the Regulation comes with exemptions. Rules developed by the European Commission regarding the application of a “fair-use policy” list the conditions that an operator may place a limit to the usage of consumption of mobile roaming services at the domestic price to prevent abusive usage for purposes other than periodic travel (Article 6 (b)(1) of the Roaming Regulation), with customers being required to prove “stable links” (such as being work commuters, residents or students) in the roaming destination to avoid extra charges for exceeding the fair usage.
The new rule is intended to combat existing boundaries, and is not intended to allow permanent roaming, with customers taking out the cheapest subscription available in the EU and using it for roaming in their home country. Service providers who can prove that the new regime is causing them to operate at a loss may apply to their national regulator for a year’s delay in implementing the new framework (which may be extended in case of need) in order to allow time to adjust their business models.
While there may therefore be a transition period before the new framework applies universally, the rapid progress achieved by the EU institutions in eradicating mobile roaming charges cannot be denied.