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Mobile Phone Roaming in Europe Remain Free Through 2032 by Bridget Ryder

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Mobile Phone Roaming in Europe Remain Free Through 2032

The European Union’s Council of Ministers and The European Parliament reached an agreement Wednesday to extend the 2017 ‘Roam Like At Home’ regulation that eliminated roaming charges to customers of European mobile phone operators when traveling within the EU.  

In 2017, then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the regulation that ended roaming charges within Europe as “a true European success story.” But that landmark agreement had come with one catch—it would expire in June 2022. 

This week, the EU Parliament and the Council negotiated an agreement that extends the free roaming regulations and also strengthens other customer protections. 

In addition to free roaming, the new regulation will require telecommunications companies to provide 5G network to its roaming customers whenever available. It also requires companies to be more transparent about extra charges for services, such as connecting to the internet on an airplane, and to keep customers informed of how they can contact emergency services when roaming. The new regulation will also gradually lower the price that operators can charge each other for providing service to their roaming customers (wholesale charges). For data charges, the wholesale price cap will start at 2 euros per gigabyte in 2022 and gradually fall to 1 euro in 2027. 

According to Politico, Parliament’s attempts to lower the cap on wholesale charges and eliminate higher charges for international calls between EU countries were the toughest points to negotiate. 

In October, the center-right Austrian Member of the European Parliament Angelika Winzig, also the leader of the Parliament negotiations on roaming regulations and co-chair of Parliament’s Intergroup on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, had outlined her hopes for the new regulations in The Parliament Magazine. She called for the lower wholesale price caps to ensure the viability of small telecommunications operators. She had also wanted the new regulation to eliminate long-distance charges for calls between phone numbers from different European countries (intra-EU calls). This last element was left out of the current agreement, however. 

The end of roaming charges has made it cheap and easy for European mobile phone customers to call home when abroad, but the cost of calling a number in a different European country, an intra-EU call, can still be unpredictably pricey. The proliferation of smartphones and apps such as WhatsApp and Skype have made internet calls a relatively easy workaround for international calling. But for some consumer advocates this isn’t enough. They point out that this assumes everyone has a smartphone and penalizes those who can’t afford one, according to Politico. 

At the same time, telecommunications companies say they can’t afford to lose the income from international European calls while investing in 5G and other infrastructure. 

A November statement from the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, signed by 13 CEOs, claimed that prohibiting higher charges for international European calls “would forcibly remove over €2bn revenues from the sector in a 4 year period, which is equivalent to 2.5% of the sector’s yearly investment capacity for mobile infrastructure.”

The new roaming regulation will go into effect in July 2022, extending rules until the end June 2032.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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