MEPs have voted in favour of a telecoms single market package that will cap data roaming fees across Europe. The result has been hailed as a victory for the consumer.
The new rules will see a 75 per cent decrease in roaming charges beginning in April 2016, before they are formally ended in June 2017. Some 665 MEPs voted in favour of the deal - somewhat of a surprise following reports that a coalition of Green and EFDD MEPs were planning to strike down the legislation.
Most MEPs were quick to welcome the ruling, citing the benefits to holidaymakers and business travellers. It is estimated that the ruling will save the average holidaymaker €85 a year. Catherine Stihler MEP, UK Labour's European spokesperson on consumer affairs, said, "This vote will mean an end to outrageous phone bills for consumers when they return from their holiday or travel within the EU for work."
These sentiments were echoed by fellow MEP Theresa Griffin, UK Labour's EU spokesperson on industry, who said, "the end of roaming charges will be a huge benefit to holiday makers and business travellers across the EU. Labour MEPs have long campaigned for the end of exorbitant roaming charges, and we are delighted the end is in sight."
However, the reforms have not been universally welcomed. Critics have warned that mobile network providers may simply push up prices of domestic services to compensate for lost revenue.
Roger Helmer, a member of Parliament's EFDD group, said: "The bottom line is the customer always pays, and while this regulation favours frequent travellers, we believe that telecoms companies will compensate for their loss of revenue by bumping up charges for domestic users who mostly use their phone in the UK."
The Greens/EFA group lead on the file, Michel Reimon, also identified these concerns, questioning whether "calling and surfing will be any cheaper in 2017."
He continued, "Suppliers will be entitled to offset losses by introducing other fees if they secure their domestic prices; the burden of proof that any such supplementary charges are not necessary will lie with the national regulatory authorities. Many governments do not want to abolish roaming charges and will choose their policies along these lines. In addition, there will be a patchwork of national derogations."
Others stressed that the reforms have not gone far enough.
Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation said, "another cost cut for mobile use abroad by April 2016 is good news, but is still only a half-baked solution… A real zero-roaming Europe hinges on a mammoth reform of the telecom market."
The ending of data roaming charges signals the completion of a commission-led initiative that has seen data roaming charges cut repeatedly by the Commission since 2007.
This vote followed two years of negotiations, with the package generating conflict between the European Parliament and EU member states anxious, about the cost to their national telecoms operators.
The plans to abolish roaming charges had initially been scheduled for the end of 2015, but were blocked by national governments through the European Council in March.