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Europe to kill roaming charges in 2017

Europeans have finally been given a date for the abolition of roaming charges across the EU.

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From 2017 roaming charges will be abolished across Europe.

© Tom Craig/Demotix/Corbis

Travellers in Europe can get ready to say goodbye to roaming fees once and for all.

European politicians voted on Tuesday to kill international roaming charges across the EU by June 15, 2017. Phone users across Europe will also see fees for using data abroad cut by next summer.

Agreeing on a date for the abolition of roaming charges is a key part of Europe's Telecoms Single Market initiative, which was passed Tuesday by the European Parliament. That body also voted Tuesday on rules to govern Net neutrality.

Every European phone user who travels within the EU stands to benefit from the agreement, which allows the use the data abroad at no added cost. It's not such good news, though, for mobile operators who will have to bear the financial brunt of the abolishing roaming charge. One way they could do this is by raising the price of phone bills across the board, which would make day-to-day smartphone use more expensive for consumers.

"The major concern is if and how mobile operators will recover their costs because we all know there's no such thing as a free lunch," said Ernest Doku, mobile expert for price comparison service uSwitch, in a statement. "If this regulation change isn't properly managed, higher mobile phone bills for all may just prove to be the sting in the tail, with infrequent travellers drawing the short straw."

UK regulator Ofcom had some reassuring words for British phone users. "We have worked with European bodies to develop important safeguards so that free roaming for people travelling overseas doesn't mean higher bills elsewhere," a spokeswoman told CNET. "The UK also has one of the most competitive mobile phone markets in Europe, so operators here have strong incentives to keep prices low."

In the UK, network Three is already working to eradicate roaming charges by forming partnerships with operators in different countries, and doing so with no extra cost to the customer. Such partnerships may become more common as the networks seek to develop ways to eradicate roaming charges by the 2017 deadline.

The intention of the Parliament has long been to end roaming fees within the EU, but it has taken several years for politicians to finalize a date. Members of the European Parliament first voted to place caps on roaming charges in 2007 in order to prevent phone users from running up extortionate bills when abroad. These have steadily decreased ever since, making foreign roaming ever more affordable for European citizens.

From mid-2016 consumers will see roaming surcharges, the amount added to the price customers would pay at home, limited even further as an interim measure. Prices will be capped at 5 cents per minute for outgoing voice calls, 2 cents for text messages and 5 cents per megabyte of mobile Internet use, ahead of being abolished altogether the following year.