The European Union has reached a provisional deal to scrap mobile roaming charges across the 28 member states in mid-2017, in an attempt to boost growth and innovation across the region.
Most mobile operators currently charge extra fees for using a mobile phone to call, send text messages or access the internet in another EU country.
According to recent research by uSwitch.com, a fifth of UK holidaymakers have returned home from an European trip in the past year to find their bill was, on average, £61 higher than usual – amounting to £573 million collectively.
For the past seven years the EU has been forcing prices down by placing a cap on the charges operators can impose and reducing that limit each year.
Current charge caps are €0.19 per minute for calls, €0.06 per text message and €0.20 per megabyte of data. On 30 April 2016, these will go down to €0.05, €0.02 and €0.05 respectively.
Under the new agreement, mobile phone users travelling within the EU will pay the same price for calls, text messages and data as they do in their home country from 15 June 2017.
However, roaming providers will be able to apply a ‘fair use policy’ to prevent abusive use of roaming. This would include using roaming services for purposes other than periodic travel.
Although the removal of roaming charges could wipe two per cent off mobile operators’ revenues, the EU said that safeguards will be introduced to address the recovery of costs by operators.
The expected consolidation in the industry will also allow greater economies of scale for the high costs of building networks capable of handling ever-growing volumes of data.
Commenting on the news, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said the abolition of roaming charges would put an end to uncertainty about using mobiles abroad, and cut “bill shocks” off at the source.
“This long-awaited move to scrap EU mobile roaming charges would be a huge win for millions of travellers, especially those who have faced expensive charges for data roaming when their mobile hasn’t even left their suitcase,” he said.
While the announcement is potentially good news for travellers in Europe, this is not the first time the EU has promised to end roaming charges. Last year, the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming charges from 15 December 2015.
However, the move was delayed amid concerns about the impact on the overall telecoms market, and speculation that mobile operators would increase domestic tariffs to make up for the shortfall in roaming revenues.
“Let’s hope there’ll be no more backtracking after Europe’s mobile networks have had their say,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.
“The ‘safeguards’ to address the recovery of costs by operators will have to be suitably robust to financially protect mobile customers and make sure bills don’t rise.”
Member states’ ambassadors will be debriefed on the new deal at the Permanent Representatives Committee on 30 June. The agreed text will then be presented for confirmation by member states later this year, according to the EU.