Net Neutrality

EU Agrees to Ban Roaming Charges, Enforce Net Neutrality

European authorities have finally reached an agreement on rules to ban all roaming charges from June 2017 and prevent operators from blocking or throttling Internet traffic, in disregard of net neutrality principles, from next year.

The agreement comes almost two years after the European Commission (EC) first proposed making sweeping changes to the regulation of the region's telecom sector and follows months of negotiations involving the EC as well as the European Parliament and Council.

Operators have long complained that regulatory moves to lower pricing will hinder investment in next-generation networks but appeared largely to have given up the fight on roaming.

Moreover, while they have been similarly opposed to any enforcement of net neutrality, measures in this area look far less stringent than rules introduced in the US market earlier this year.

Operators will, for instance, be able to offer higher-quality services in partnership with over-the-top (OTT) players as long as this does not affect the Internet experience of the majority -- a loophole that is bound to anger the most ardent supporters of net neutrality.

Policing and enforcing this rule could also prove impractical and it remains unclear how authorities will punish service providers deemed to have overstepped the mark.

"I think the devil is in the details," says Dario Talmesio, the practice leader for Europe with market research company Ovum Ltd. . "This is a political statement in favor of net neutrality, but we still can't tell if and how it will really happen."

Responding to the EC's latest announcement, the GSM Association (GSMA) , which represents the interests of the region's operators, urged European authorities to do more to support the development of a digital single market.

"The region needs a forward-looking policy and a regulatory framework that further strengthens Europe as a preferred location for investment and innovation, with European citizens receiving the same level of protection when using the same or similar communication services," said Afke Schaart, the GSMA's vice president of Europe, in a statement.

A number of the region's biggest players would like to see greater harmonization of telecom regulation between the European Union's various member states. Of particular concern is the current lack of coordination when it comes to awarding new frequency licenses for use with mobile broadband services. But the GSMA also appears worried that national regulatory authorities may approach roaming and net neutrality regulations in different ways.

"It is important that the implementing act on roaming works effectively to prevent negative impacts on domestic markets, and guidelines for the open Internet rules ensure consistent application of the regulation across the EU," said the GSMA.

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

The EC is planning more widespread reforms next year that are intended to address issues such as spectrum harmonization, the fragmentation of regulation in other areas and the treatment of over-the-top players.

A major gripe for service providers is that companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook are able to "piggyback" on their infrastructure without facing the same regulatory constraints.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a digital single market," said Andrus Ansip, the EC's vice-president for the digital single market, in a statement. "Our plans to make it happen were fully endorsed by heads of state and government last week, and we should move faster than ever on this."

Next page: Decline of the roaming empire

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Roland Leners 7/2/2015 | 3:36:24 PM
Re: Roam roam on the range Most mobile operators in Europe require a local address before providing service to you. So I suspect that this will create a market for proxy addresses (cf. what Borderlinx does for physical goods)
Joe Stanganelli 6/30/2015 | 10:24:39 PM
Borders It's a hard issue.  On the one hand, it seems silly and unfair to charge Europeans more for calls and data just because they're across some imaginary, manmade border (just as we Americans once used to have to pay long distance for calling someone in another state).  On the other hand, there are different infrastructure and regulatory issues that add to the cost of cross-border connections.

Hopefully, this ruling will help to force the industry to build a more cost-efficient infrastructure.

Joe Stanganelli 6/30/2015 | 10:16:42 PM
Re: Roam roam on the range Competition is potentially threatening to the people at either extreme of market success.  For those in the middle, however, it's generally a great opportunity.

In any case, for citizens, much of the EU is pretty much "borderless" in effect these days anyway.  May as well let telecom catch up.
Joe Stanganelli 6/30/2015 | 10:14:27 PM
Re: More of a nod to net neutrality It's also worth pointing out that, yes, it may be difficult to enforce, but regulatory agencies frequently have trouble enforcing laws across the board...and are thus compelled to only go after the most egregious violators, the big-money targets, or the targets that people complain about the most.

Reminds me of when I was a lad working for a state's Consumer Protection Bureau.  While doing some Internet research, I saw a banner ad that was in blatant violation of state deceptive trade practice and false advertising laws.  Young, naive me brought it to the attention of one of my supervisors.  She laughed, noting how difficult it would be to track down this one particular violator, and that it simply wouldn't be worth it.
Mitch Wagner 6/30/2015 | 4:15:21 PM
Roam roam on the range "Without roaming surcharges, theoretically consumers can buy their telecom service from the cheapest country and use it at home.... In that sense, cancelling roaming surcharges could translate into tougher in-market competition for local services."

This sounds like a benefit, to my American eyes. Will Europe disagree?
[email protected] 6/30/2015 | 10:35:11 AM
More of a nod to net neutrality This appears to be so grey that it's going to provide the lawyers with their choice of loopholes. 

For clarity's sake let's hope there are some amendments while they would still be relevant, just so everyone knows what is allowed and what isn't.
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