EC Clarifies Policy on Abolition of Mobile Roaming Charges

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The European Parliament’s plans to abolish roaming charges for European citizens travelling abroad have been clarified, with an initially proposed limit on the number of days without surcharge scrapped.

The EU has been regulating roaming charges – added surcharges faced by individuals using their mobile phones abroad – for some time now, with the aim of eventually scrapping them altogether by 2017.

At first, the proposal was that those travelling within the EU would be able to enjoy 90 days a year (limited to 30 days at a time) of mobile phone use without added surcharges. The limit was designed to ensure that roaming charges were applied to EU citizens on holiday, and to prevent individuals from simply taking advantage of a cheaper phone contract issued in another country.

Telecoms providers had argued that, since mobile tariff prices vary reasonably from country to country, scrapping roaming charges without a time limit would leave the system open to abuse.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker aruged, however, that while some kind of limit would be necessary, setting it to a maximum of 90 days a year would “miss the point of what was promised”. “When you roam,” he said, “it should be like at home.”

Instead, the proposed rules would involve a more flexible assessment of reasonable use based on residency that would act as “a solid safeguard mechanism for operators against potential abuses” without proposing an arbitrary time limit. The would ensure that those who regularly travel abroad for work, or students on study abroad schemes, for example, would not be unfairly penalised.

An EU official maintained that “is someone is found to have gone beyond a period in which they have lost real association with their country of origin, then surcharges would apply.”

The Vice President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, conceded that the new approach may not be welcomed with open arms by telecoms operators, due to the added complexity in assessing what counts as reasonable use, but nonetheless supported it.

The 90 day limit approach “was just a draft proposal, just an idea” he said, adding that “this proposal based on residency is much better, but is not as comfortable for service providers, not as simple as the one that was counting days.”

Exactly how potential abuse of the system will be assessed is something that will need to be ironed out but current proposals include checking for periods of inactivity, or use of multiple sim cards by one user, as well as a broader assessment of time spent roaming and checking for locational discrepancies. For instance, as the EU Commissioner for Digital Economy, Gunther H. Oettinger mentioned: “we have to avoid user calling from Ireland to London with a Latvian sim card.”

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