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Europe calls time on roaming charges

The EU is on track to scrap roaming charges for European mobile users by June 15. Non-European travelers are not so lucky.

EyesWideOpen, Getty Images

After a decade of negotiations, the EU has cleared the the last hurdle toward abolishing roaming fees across Europe.

Negotiators from the European Parliament, Commission and Council on Tuesday agreed on price caps for the amount that carriers will pay one another when their customers travel abroad.

The agreement was the final step that needed to take place before carriers can begin scrapping roaming fees across the EU. As of June 15, European mobile customers will no longer have to pay any extra for calls, texts and data when they travel to other countries within the EU, as long as they stay within their contract limits.

The EU has been slashing the cost of using of using phones abroad since 2007 and promising to get rid of roaming fees since 2013. Mobile users across the bloc have eagerly anticipated the plan, which the EU is calling "roam like at home" to come into effect.

The rules only benefit customers who normally live in or have stable links to a member state, and carry a SIM card tied a local carrier. This means travelers from outside the EU cannot buy a SIM card in one country and use it to roam freely as they travel across Europe. There is no official registration needed to take advantage of "roam like at home," but networks may ask consumers to show proof of residency, employment or study.

The price caps agreed upon by officials determine how much a network in one country will be able to charge a network in another country when their customers use each other's networks. They have been set at 3.2 cents per minute for voice calls, 1 cent per text message and 7.7 euros per gigabyte of data. The cost of data will shrink annually for the next five years by at least 1 euro, so that by January 1, 2022, the price of 1GB of data will be only 2.5 euros.

Going into the meeting, different countries had different ideas about where the price cap should fall. Countries in the north and east of the Europe wanted to keep prices low to stop carriers from raising prices in home markets. But countries in the south wanted to keep the caps high so that their own carriers wouldn't be shortchanged during the summer tourist season when Europeans flock to the Mediterranean.

British mobile users will be able to take advantage of this for as long as the UK is an EU member state, but the post-Brexit roaming fees situation is unclear.

Last week, Andrus Ansip, vice president of the Digital Single Market for the European Commission, published an open letter warning that if the EU failed to reach a deal it would lead the public to question the EU's ability to deliver on its promises. He urged all parties to show "significant flexibility" when approaching the negotiations -- a warning they seem to have heeded.

The European Parliament and Council must now formally approve the agreement to give networks an opportunity to prepare for the introduction of the price caps in June.

Since 2007, the Commission has gradually worked to lower the costs involved in roaming for European mobile customers, but the end goal has always been to get rid of roaming charges altogether.

"This was the last piece of the puzzle," said Ansip in a statement Wednesday. "Today we deliver on our promise."