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EU Agrees to Ban Roaming Charges, Enforce Net Neutrality

Iain Morris
6/30/2015
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Decline of the roaming empire
The EC had wanted to abolish roaming surcharges from next year but met resistance from member states arguing for a much later overhaul.

A compromise means that from June 15 2017 operators will be unable to charge customers prices that are higher than domestic rates for using services in other parts of the EU. From April next year, roaming rates will be capped at €0.05 ($0.06) per minute of a call made, €0.02 ($0.02) per text message sent and €0.05 ($0.06) per megabyte of data -- rates that are about 75% cheaper than existing limits.

However, Ovum's Talmesio is skeptical that roaming surcharges will disappear entirely by June 2017, noting that "firm end dates" for proposed rule changes have already slipped.

He also thinks the EC's moves could have some unintended consequences. "Without roaming surcharges, theoretically consumers can buy their telecom service from the cheapest country and use it at home," he says. "In that sense, cancelling roaming surcharges could translate into tougher in-market competition for local services."

Others reckon the abolition of roaming charges will increase the pressure on operators to become more like the web players they complain have been eating their lunch.

"EU roaming premiums are on their way out, reducing mobile operators' revenues with them," said Mark Windle, the head of marketing for software company OpenCloud Ltd. "Adding further value to their communication services could be the differentiator that operators need to win market share."

Little clarity on net neutrality
Meanwhile, rules on net neutrality are expected to come into force in April 2016, preventing operators from blocking or slowing down services they deem a threat to their own, such as Internet telephony and instant messaging.

Earlier proposals might have stopped service providers from offering higher-quality services of any kind, with net neutrality supporters arguing this would lead to the emergence of a "two-tier" Internet, but these plans were subsequently watered down.

Even so, as Ovum's Talmesio notes, there is still an absence of any real detail on the net neutrality regulations, creating uncertainty for both service providers and over-the-top companies.

That marks something of a contrast with the situation in the US, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken a much tougher approach to the whole net neutrality issue.

In late February, the US regulatory body decided to reclassify broadband as a telecom service under Title II of the country's Communications Act, subjecting broadband service providers to utility-style regulations. (See FCC Adopts Title II Rules .)

Banning such practices as traffic blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, US authorities will be able to enforce restrictions by applying much stricter rules developed for the telecom sector.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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Roland Leners
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Roland Leners,
User Rank: Light Beer
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
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
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.

Hopefully.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
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
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
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
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
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?
Ray@LR
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[email protected],
User Rank: Blogger
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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