EU caps wholesale data roaming charges

The days of shocking post-holiday phone bills will soon be a thing of the past...

EU caps wholesale data roaming charges

Picture by Peter Dejong AP/Press Association Images

European lawmakers have taken the final step towards abolition roaming fees from June 15th, as they secured a deal on Wednesday to cap the wholesale charges mobile service operators pay each other to allow customers to use their smartphones across the EU.

Reuters reports that these wholesale charges for data – which have hit a lot of users hard as they inadvertently incur massive fees while surfing the internet or downloading files abroad – will be capped at €7.70 per gigabyte from June. This will come down further to €2.50 per gigabyte in five years' time. 

It was seen as the final piece in the puzzle for the removal of overall charges, a process which has taken roughly a decade to get through, with Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, the Finnish MEP who negotiated on behalf of the European Parliament taking to Twitter to celebrate:

EU negotiators have agreed on the following wholesale caps:

  • 3.2 cents per minute of voice call, as of 15 June 2017
  • 1 cent per SMS, as of 15 June 2017
  • A step by step reduction over 5 years for data caps decreasing from €7.7 per GB (as of 15 June 2017) to €6 per GB (as of 1 January 2018), €4.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2019), €3.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2020), €3 per GB (as of 1 January 2021) and €2.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2022).

Difficulties in negotiations included agreeing on a figure, given the wide differences in prices and consumption patterns across Europe. Countries in southern Europe were concerned that if wholesale prices were too low, operators might have to raise domestic prices to recover costs.

Some mobile service operators have also claimed that the caps are still two high, and will prevent smaller operators from having "roam like at home" offers.

Innocenzo Genna, vice president of the MVNO Europe body that represents mobile virtual network operators who do not own a network, said:

"European citizens expect the end of the roaming surcharges to happen without losing competitive tariffs and innovative offers. With the present deal on wholesale caps, they will be heavily disappointed."

The wholesale caps will be reviewed by the European Commission every two years going forward, with adjustments being made if necessary.

What this means for a post-Brexit UK

The Financial Times reported in December:

"A quick bilateral deal between the UK and the EU to cover roaming is not possible, according to the European Commission. In a response to a question on the topic last year, Günther Oettinger, the German commissioner responsible for the bloc’s telecoms policy, said that there are obvious constraints'.

"Under WTO rules, any bilateral agreement outside of a comprehensive free-trade deal would have to be extended to all other WTO members, warned Mr Oettinger in a response to the European Parliament last year."