The roaming regulation has a long history. In 2006, the European Commission had already carried out its first consultations and developed a concept for the initial roaming regulation, which entered into force in June 2007.
Until then, European citizens hardly used their phones when traveling outside their Member State. If they did, it cost them a fortune. Clearly, in an EU with flourishing border regions, growing trade and increased mobility, high roaming charges were an obstacle to faster and deeper economic integration.
Over time, the roaming regulation evolved until finally, in June 2017, roaming charges within the EU were abolished for European citizens. From that point on, only national tariffs for calls, texts and data applied, meaning that the high phone bills due to roaming within the EU were no longer. The current regulation is in place until June 2022 and therefore needs to be revised to remain in force.
“In an EU with thriving border regions, growing trade and increased mobility, high roaming charges were an obstacle to faster and deeper economic integration”
The European Parliament wishes to seize this opportunity to incorporate substantial improvements that will benefit all European citizens and businesses without unduly disrupting mobile network operators. If the regulation is not extended, conditions in the mobile telecommunications market would not guarantee a market-driven “roam like at home” scenario.
Just look to the UK, where network operators have pledged not to introduce roaming charges after Brexit. In an oligopoly, such assurances obviously do not last very long. Earlier this year, all major UK network operators announced the reintroduction of roaming charges.
In September 2021, the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) adopted several compromises by a large majority. Among other things, the report calls for the following improvements:
First, it calls for a further reduction in wholesale caps. The maximum prices that operators charge each other when consumers roam other networks are an essential element in the sustainability of the “roam like at home” for operators. This is particularly relevant for mobile virtual network operators and small mobile network operators which are not part of a larger pan-European group.
The Commission proposal already foresaw the need for a gradual reduction of ceilings but was not gradual enough to reflect market realities. Data volumes have grown steadily in recent years and it is increasingly difficult for small operators to offer “roaming like home” services on a sustainable basis.
These developments can undermine competition, impacting the price and quality consumers receive, even on their home networks. We have therefore sought to reduce the wholesale caps, which is beneficial to both the market and consumers.
Second, when it comes to intra-EU calls, while roaming costs have fallen, people calling from their home country to someone living in another Member State still have higher phone bills. The new regulations aim to put an end to these costs.
Third, on quality of service issues, consumers should be able to benefit from the same service standards, such as data transmission speed, wherever they go in Europe, as far as technically possible. . In recent years, there have been some reported cases where roaming providers, for example, have deliberately reduced data speeds for their customers due to business considerations. Such practices must be stopped to make true “walking around like home” a reality.
In addition, the new roaming regulation will set the right course at the wholesale level. It will ensure that mobile network operators can access all generations of networks and technologies needed in other Member States. For application developers and start-ups, this means that consumers can continuously use their existing applications and services when crossing EU borders, without network disruption.
“We just have to look to the UK, where network operators have promised not to introduce roaming charges after Brexit. In an oligopoly, such assurances obviously do not last very long.
Finally, you have to watch to understand. The mobile communications market, and the roaming market in particular, is growing rapidly. We need to keep our finger on the pulse of the market to ensure stability.
With the deployment of future network technologies, along with the increased use of IoT-based devices and machine-to-machine services, we envision an exciting future. To keep the regulation up to date, we need to collect as much data as possible to foster innovation and help business development.
History shows that the European Parliament – in particular the EPP Group – has always been a progressive supporter of the Roaming Regulation and has continuously worked towards a true digital single market. We must not take past achievements for granted, but rather continue to fight for European citizens and businesses, adding another chapter to this true European achievement.