EU causes uproar with roaming rate, net neutrality decisions

The European Commission (EC) faced a backlash from consumer groups after MEPs voted to abolish mobile roaming rates from mid-2017, and cleared controversial net neutrality rules.

As of June 15, 2017, mobile users travelling in the EU will pay the same prices for voice calls, texts and data as at home. This may still seem a long wait for some, but the Commission noted that fees would be cheaper from April 2016. From this point, operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices up to €0.05 ($0.05) per minute of call made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data.

Although the long-awaited move -- which has come after more than two years of negotiations and about turns -- was broadly welcomed, criticisms have already emerged over some remaining loopholes that apply to the "fair use" of roaming services.

For example, operators could be allowed to limit roaming rights for very frequent travellers. In addition, the new rules include a clause that could allow an operator to reapply a surcharge to roaming customers if the provision of roaming services at domestic prices "is proved to make the domestic charging model of an operator unsustainable."

Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, told the Guardian that allowing companies to limit roaming rights for frequent travellers "is certainly not the promised end of roaming in Europe."

"A real zero-roaming Europe hinges on a major telecom market reform, which is a mammoth task to achieve in just 13 months," Goyens said.

Andrus Ansip, the EC vice president responsible for the digital single market, conceded that much work lies ahead to achieve a telecoms single market, which would form part of the EU digital single market strategy.

"More work will need to be done to overcome national silos and address challenges such as spectrum coordination. We will go further as early as next year with an ambitious overhaul of EU telecoms rules. We count on the support of the European Parliament and member states to make this happen," Ansip said.

However, the criticisms over roaming pale in comparison to the backlash over net neutrality rules that were voted in by MEPs at the same time as the roaming fees decision.

MEPs were slammed after rejecting calls to amend the original proposals, such as banning the zero-rating of content.

La Quadrature du Net, a web freedom advocacy group, said the regulation text  was "ambiguous" and left "important loopholes" that mean net neutrality cannot be guaranteed.

In an emailed statement, the group also noted that the MEPs had rejected calls from companies and citizens -- including the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee -- to amend the proposals, resulting in legislation that "allows commercial discrimination."

German MEP Michael Theurer appears to be one MEP that opposes the new rules. He told BBC News that the outcome was "regrettable" and said he felt the regulations as passed do not include a clear definition of net neutrality to inform regulators.

The rules on net neutrality will apply from Apr. 30, 2016.

For more:
- see the European Commission Q&A on roaming charges and open Internet
- see the release from the European Parliament
- see this BBC News article
- see this Guardian article

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