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New EU roaming plan drops time limits

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New EU roaming plan drops time limits

Photo © Tanusha - Fotolia

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission agreed at its weekly meeting Wednesday to make a number of changes to the EU plan to end mobile phone roaming charges in 2017 in order to "avoid abuses".

The Commission has decided that when roaming charges come to an end in 2017, here should be no limits in terms of timing or volume imposed on consumers when using their mobile devices abroad in the EU.

Revisions on fair use also safeguard operators against potential abuses, with a new mechanism based on principle of residence or stable links European consumers may have with any EU Member State (frequent and substantial presence in the Member State of the roaming provider, for example).

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) welcomed the plan: "It is very good news that time limits on roaming have been dropped", said its director Monique Goyens.

"There should not be penalties for all consumers just because some hypothetically could misuse the system. Consumers should be able to make phone calls, send messages and use the internet for the entirety of their stay abroad and not be charged additional costs when travelling for a long period of time, working or studying in another EU country. This is what consumers expect from the single market," she said.

Digital Single Market Commission Andrus Ansip said the changes reflected a need "to ensure low prices for users all across Europe, to make full use of new mobile services. European consumers would not accept it otherwise."

The draft rules stick to the date for ending roaming charges of 15 June 2017. But they also ensure that "operators have the tools to guard against abuse of the rules," said Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther H. Oettinger.

The Commission's discussion focused on draft rules to enable all travellers using a SIM card of a Member State in which they reside or with which they have stable links to use their mobile device in any other EU country, just as they would at home.

Examples of "stable links" include work commuters, expats who are frequently present in their home country or Erasmus students. Europeans will pay domestic prices when they call, text or go online from their mobile devices and will have full access to other parts of their mobile subscription (e.g. monthly data package).

The final proposals is scheduled to be adopted by mid-December, following feedback from BEREC (Body of European Regulators in Electronic Communications), Member States and all interested parties.

Operator safeguards allow operators to check usage patterns to avoid the "Roam like at Home" mechanism is abused. Criteria include insignificant domestic traffic compared to roaming traffic; long inactivity of a given SIM card associated with use mostly, if not exclusively, while roaming; and subscription and sequential use of multiple SIM cards by the same customer while roaming.

In such cases, operators will have to alert their users. Only if these conditions are met, operators will be able to apply small surcharges (the Commission proposed a maximum of €0.04/min per call, €0.01/SMS and €0.0085/MB). In case of disagreement, complaints procedures must be put in place by the operator. If the dispute persists the customer may complain to the national regulatory authority which will settle the case.

Abuses could also be related to the mass purchase and resale of SIM cards for permanent use outside the country of the operator issuing them. In such cases, the operator will be allowed to take immediate and proportionate measures while informing the national regulator.

In case of price increases on a specific market or other negative effects for their domestic customers, operators can get out of the "Roam like at Home" provision allowing them, if authorised by national regulators, to temporarily apply the same small surcharges (the Commission proposed a maximum of €0.04/min per call, €0.01/SMS and €0.0085/MB). Operators will have to provide evidence to demonstrate that "Roam like at Home" was putting their domestic charging model at risk.

Roaming prices have decreased by more than 90% since 2007. In 2015, and based on a proposal of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council agreed to end roaming charges for people who travel periodically in the EU. "Roam like at Home" - where customers pay domestic prices, irrespective of where they are travelling in the EU - will become a reality for all European travellers by June 2017.

Further information on roaming charges

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