Roaming charges should pack their bags, says EU vote

European lawmakers vote to end international roaming charges by the end of 2015.

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The EU is one step closer to ending international roaming charges. Shutterstock
Holidaymakers are a flip-flop closer to having more euros in the vacation budget for sun, sand and sangria, as the European Parliament voted Thursday to end international roaming charges by Christmas 2015.

"This is what the EU is all about -- getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive," said European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes in a statement. "Nearly all of us depend on mobile and internet connections as part of our daily lives. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our mind.

"Companies should have the chance to serve all of us, and this regulation makes it easier for them to do that. It's win-win."

The next step is for individual European countries to review and agree on the regulation, which is expected to be finalised by the end of this year.

With roaming charges packing their bags, many European networks and carriers are saying farewell, adieu and adiós to extra charges when you're abroad. British and French networks are doing away with potentially vacation-ruining fees to get on the right side of holidaymakers -- although some networks including Great Britain's EE and the US's AT&T are in a hurry to get you roaming on 4G while they can still charge extra for the privilege.

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Shutterstock

International roaming fees can still hit hard if travelling outside of Europe. "British holidaymakers still need to be extremely careful as there is relatively little protection against roaming outside the EU," warned industry expert Ernest Doku of comparison site uSwitch. "Anyone taking their mobile abroad should always check before they travel to find out the costs, and what they can do to reduce them."

Connected continent -- ooh la-la!

European lawmakers want to create a single telecoms market across the 'Connected Continent', allowing you to call, text and get online wherever you roam without facing an exorbitant bill when you return home.

Roaming charges are the most visible aspect of cross-border telecommunications, but the EU is also looking at standardising back-end systems, coordinating spectrum licensing for wireless broadband, and clamping down on networks and ISPs giving customers a raw deal.

"Beyond the highly visible barrier of roaming we are now close to removing many other barriers so Europeans can enjoy open, seamless communications wherever they are," said Kroes.

'A good referee'

The EU is also looking to protect net neutrality across the continent, which is welcomed by consumer groups.

"Net neutrality is as close as it gets to being the issue of our times for the internet," said Guillermo Beltra of the European Consumer Organisation. "We are reassured to see MEPs say equitable internet provision must be realised.

"It is in no-one's interest to see overt control of internet traffic speeds and access pass too far into the hands of Europe's handful of network operators. Net Neutrality is the buffer against such a scenario. It's also a bulwark against a future 'two-tier' Internet of consumers paying premiums to access certain services, or operators prioritising their own content while degrading the speed of competitors. Internet traffic management is like a good referee in football -- it's needed in minor emergencies and should otherwise go unnoticed."

Of course, not everyone's happy: facing a fall in income for networks, carriers and ISPs, the telecoms industry is grumbling.

"Network operators must be able to develop services that meet the needs of consumers and charge different prices for differentiated products," insisted Anne Bouverot, director general of industry body the GSMA. "This is also a key driver for the high network investment needed to meet Europe's connectivity challenge and underpin growth."

 

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