Roaming Recast an ideal and timely opportunity to take a step closer to a true digital Single Market, writes Angelika Winzig

EU must not take past achievements on roaming for granted and should continue to fight for Europe's citizens and businesses, says rapporteur
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By Angelika Winzig

Angelika Winzig (AT, EPP) is co-chair of Parliament’s Intergroup on Small and medium-sized enterprises

18 Oct 2021

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 that point, European citizens hardly used their phones when traveling outside their Member State. If they did, it cost them a fortune. Obviously in an EU with flourishing border regions, growing trade and increased mobility, high roaming fees were an obstacle for 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 moment, only domestic rates for calls, SMS and data applied, meaning that high phone bills due to roaming within the EU were no more. The current regulation is in place until June 2022 and therefore needs to be recast to stay effective.

“In an EU with flourishing border regions, growing trade and increased mobility, high roaming fees were an obstacle for faster and deeper economic integration”

The European Parliament wants to use 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, the conditions on the mobile telecoms market would not ensure a ‘roam like at home’ scenario driven solely by the market.

We only have to look to the UK, where network operators promised not to introduce roaming charges following 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, parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee adopted several compromises with a broad majority. Inter alia, the report calls for the following improvements: 

First it seeks a further reduction of wholesale caps. The maximum prices that operators charge each other when consumers use other networks while roaming is an essential element of the sustainability of ‘roam like at home’ for operators. This is particularly relevant for mobile virtual network operators and smaller mobile network operators that are not part of a larger pan-European group.

The Commission’s proposal already foresaw the need for a gradual reduction in the caps but was not progressive enough to reflect market realities. Data volumes have been increasing steadily in recent years and it is increasingly difficult for smaller operators to offer ‘roam like at home’ services sustainably.

These developments can undermine competition, impacting the price and quality consumers receive, even on their domestic networks. We therefore aimed at reducing the wholesale caps, beneficial to both the market and consumers alike. 

Second, on the issue of intra-EU calls, while roaming costs have decreased, people making phone calls from their home country to someone living in another Member State still faced higher phone bills. The new regulation aims to put an end to these costs. 

Third, on the issues of quality of service, consumers must be able to enjoy the same standards of service, such as data speed, irrespective of where they go within Europe, as long as it is technically feasible. In recent years, there were some cases reported where roaming providers, for example, deliberately reduced the data speed for their customers due to commercial considerations. Such practices must be stopped to make true ‘roam like at home’ a reality.

In addition, the new Roaming Regulation will set the right course on the wholesale level. It will ensure that mobile network operators can have access to all generations of network and necessary technologies in other Member States. For application developers and start-ups, this means that consumers can continuously use their existing applications and services as they travel across borders in the Union, without network interruptions. 

“We only have to look to the UK, where network operators promised not to introduce roaming charges following Brexit. In an oligopoly, such assurances obviously do not last very long”

Last, we need to monitor in order to understand. The mobile communications market, and the roaming market in particular, are developing rapidly. We need to keep a finger on the pulse of the market to ensure stability.

With the deployment of future network technologies, as well as the increased use of devices relying on the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine services, we are looking at an exciting future. To keep the Regulation up to date, we need to gather as much data as possible to foster innovation and assist business developments.

History shows that the European Parliament - particularly the EPP group - has always been a progressive supporter of the Roaming Regulation and has worked continuously towards a true digital single market. We must not take past achievements for granted, but rather continue to fight for European citizens and business, adding another chapter to this truly European success story.

Read the most recent articles written by Angelika Winzig - SMEs & the Recovery: A brighter future for Europe’s SMEs

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