EC says no change to plan to end roaming charges

The European Commission (EC) insisted there is absolutely no delay to its plans to end roaming charges across the European Union, noting that all three EU institutions--the EC, European Parliament and national governments--agree on the need to end these charges.

These institutions will soon begin negotiations on the details of how to end roaming charges, and this process should be completed this year, according to an EC statement emailed by Ryan Heath, spokesman for outgoing EC vice president Neelie Kroes.

A recent draft document produced by the Italian Presidency of the EU led some to speculate that the plans would be delayed or watered down. However, the EC statement said the document does not suggest a delay to plans to abolish roaming charges, nor does it suggest that roaming charges should be reduced instead of removed completely; the EC claimed that the Italian Presidency is simply attempting to move the other elements of the package forward as details of how to end roaming are worked out.

With regard to the missing date for the end to roaming charges that was noticed this week, raising concerns that the deadline for roaming charge removals was in fact being pushed under the table, the EC statement said it is normal that not every detail would be on a paper at this stage. It added: "In fact some parts of the Italian text are stronger than what the Commission originally proposed in Sept. 2013, regarding roaming."

The statement also said that the existence of a 'fair use' clause in the Italian document is not a loophole; it said the clause has always been in the proposal and does not mean travellers would pay extra to roam except in extreme circumstances, and even then that clause would only exist temporarily.

The EC also sought to dispel the idea that roaming charges and broadband investment levels for mobile operators are linked: "Even if roaming was 10 times as expensive there still would not be nearly enough roaming income to pay for [network] upgrades. Meanwhile current roaming income is not used to pay for those upgrades--it mostly used to pay dividends to shareholders," the statement said.

The emailed statement also described the claim that there is a link between making money from roaming charges and ability to invest in networks a "fig-leaf".

"Think about it: if someone gave you the choice between having or not having a billion euros, you'd take the money. That is why telecoms companies are fighting roaming regulation, even though they admit in private that it's outdated and want the Commission to get rid of it so their customers stop hating them," the statement said.

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