Net Neutrality

EU Agrees to Ban Roaming Charges, Enforce Net Neutrality

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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