EU member states accused of 'savaging' roaming and net neutrality proposals

The member states of the European Union were accused by the leader of the fourth-largest group of MEPs in the European Parliament of lacking ambition and "savaging roaming and net neutrality proposals".

Eleven months after the European Parliament formally adopted its position, which called for a ban on roaming charges from December 2015 and legislation to ensure net neutrality in Europe, EU member states agreed to delay the end of mobile roaming charges in the 28-nation bloc until at least 2018, setting them on a collision course with EU lawmakers who want the fees scrapped this year, Reuters reported.

Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group of MEPs, said the decision by member states to delay the ban on roaming charges by three years is a huge disappointment, and one that unfairly infringes on consumers.

"To say this text lacks ambition is an understatement. Certainly our group will not accept this, as the only winners from it are national telecoms operators themselves," Verhofstadt said.

The ALDE president said those EU member states that voted to push back the planned end of regional roaming fees "should hang their heads in shame."

A ban on roaming fees was first mooted in European Commission proposals in 2013, and looked set to be implemented by the end of 2015 after the European Parliament backed the plan in April 2014.

At the time Neelie Kroes, then the EC's digital agenda Commissioner, said the move was a step towards delivering "open, seamless communications" to EU citizens "wherever they are."

However, the proposal was heavily criticised by key industry associations including the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and the GSM Association.

Commenting on the decision to push back the roaming fee implementation date, ETNO chairman Steven Tas said it is important to keep the original goals of the EC's Connected Continent proposals in mind "which was to support growth and job creation." ETNO called on EU institutions to ensure that the finalised roaming rules don't disrupt national markets or increase regulatory uncertainty.

The view of the GSMA was similar. "[T]he immediate priority is for these proposals to reach a positive conclusion so that we can start the process of creating a truly Digital Single Market that will benefit Europe's citizens and businesses," director general Anne Bouverot noted.

Ovum analyst Matthew Howett told BBC News that the effect of the delay on consumers will, to a degree, be offset by operators' own efforts to reduce roaming rates.

For more:
- see this ALDE statement
- view this ETNO announcement
- read the GSMA's view
- see this BBC News report
- see this Reuters article

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