Cheaper calls on way after vote to end roaming fees

Good news for consumers, but telcos are expected to fight new moves to cut charges

The reform package is designed to improve Europe’s competitveness in the telecoms area against rival markets such as the US and Japan.

The reform package is designed to improve Europe’s competitveness in the telecoms area against rival markets such as the US and Japan.

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 16:39

European mobile phone users could be facing cheaper bills within two years after the European Parliament voted to put an end to roaming fees by 2016.

Fees charged by telecoms operators when customers are using their mobile phones abroad will be phased out across the EUby the end of 2015.

“This vote is the EU delivering for citizens,” said Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for digital affairs. “This is what the EU is all about - getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our mind.”

The parliament also voted to stop telecoms operators from prioritising some internet traffic over others. This will prevent them from slowing down or blocking services “for economic or other reasons”, a statement from the parliament said, and prevent telecoms firms from discriminating in handling data on their networks.

The decision is a blow to operators, who are seeking ways to generate more revenue as they face dwindling revenues from their traditional businesses, at the same time as they face more demands on their services from data hungry applications such as video streaming and calling.

The industry says charging for different services and speeds would help fund network upgrades. But internet activists say that goes against the spirit of an open Internet and would lead to the creation of a two-speed system.

“Net neutrality is as close as it gets to being the issue of our times for the Internet,” said Guillermo Beltra of BEUC, a European consumer association.

“We are reassured to see members of Parliament say equitable internet provision must be realised.”

However there could be more changes on the cards before the deal gets final approval, as must be passed by the Council of the European Union. That decision is expectd to come in October.

Lobbying group ETNO, whose members include Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Telecom Italia, said the parliamentary vote was a step in the wrong direction.

“Today’s vote risks derailing the original objectives of the Connected Continent Regulation, namely a strong European digital industry igniting growth and jobs creation,” ETNO head Luigi Gambardella said.

Robin Bienenstock, an analyst at Bernstein Research, said the Parliament package was negative for telecoms companies, but that it remained to be seen how the final law would turn out.

“Investors are taking this as bad news, that Brussels is unpredictable and anti-telco,” she said. (Additional reporting: Reuters)