On The Way To Free Roaming In The EU In 2017

Before everybody in the EU went on summer vacation this year, legislation was finalized to work towards abolishing roaming charges mid-2017. A number of news organizations took bits and pieces out of EU press releases and made a nice story out of it but the details were not widely discussed. I recently came across the detailed proposed legislation that can be found here. From my point of view it says the following:

From the press release:

"Under today's agreement roaming charges will cease to exist in the EU as of 15 June 2017."

That part is pretty clear. The press release goes on and says:

"[…] from April 2016, roaming will become even cheaper: operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices up to €0.05 per minute of call made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data (excl. VAT)."

The legislative proposal that can be found here goes into the details of what these statements actually mean in detail. Concerning the second statement about the 2016/17 interim-timeframe it is made clear that network operators have to inform their customers that their home tariff also applies while roaming in the EU but that they are levying a surcharge for the time being. In other words they have to spread the message that their standard (home) tariff now also applies abroad (but with a surcharge for the time being). On 15 June 2017 they can then announce to their customers that the surcharge has been lifted.

Concerning the full abolition of roaming charges, things are a bit more difficult. Here are some excerpts that shed some light on how this part is going to be implemented:

Article 6a – Abolition of retail roaming surcharges:

"With effect from 15 June 2017, provided that the legislative act referred to in Article 19(2) is applicable on this date, roaming providers shall not levy any surcharge in comparison to the domestic retail price on roaming customers in any Member State for any regulated roaming call made or received, for any regulated roaming SMS/MMS message sent and for any regulated data roaming services used, nor any general charge to enable the terminal equipment or service to be used abroad, subject to Article 6b and 6b bis."

Article 6b – Fair Usage

"Roaming providers may apply […] a “fair use policy” […] to prevent abusive or anomalous usage of regulated retail roaming services […] for purposes other than periodic travel."

The fair usage clause is the part that is not widely discussed in public but it raises a number of interesting points. First, according to the proposed legislation, fair use policies must be approved by national telecom regulators. Regulators have to come up with a set of rules by 15 December 2016 when a FUP can be applied based on factors such as the imbalance of incoming and outgoing data traffic over roaming interfaces, pricing levels in different member states, traveling patterns in the EU (read – some countries have more people visiting compared to the local population than others).

The way I interpret the text is that the fair usage policy, which has yet to be defined by the telecom regulators will govern payments between network operators if there is an imbalance of incoming and outgoing traffic in some parts of the EU or if there is an over proportional roaming traffic. It does NOT mean, as far as I understand it, that end users have to pay extra in some circumstances if they use more voice minutes, SMS or data volume over a certain threshold.

The proposed legislation also makes it clear that network operators can take measures to ensure the system is only used by customers for occasional travel to other EU countries and not to buy a SIM card with a cheap data subscription from an operator in one country to be permanently used in another country in another operator's network that is more expensive. It's going to be interesting where the line is drawn between occasional use and misuse and which steps can be taken by network operators to prevent misuse.

3 thoughts on “On The Way To Free Roaming In The EU In 2017”

  1. > which steps can be taken by network operators to prevent misuse

    Do the law-texts tell anything of service level?

    I immediately thought that operators will allow you to make as much data traffic as you like, but will limit the speed to some uncomfortable level (64kbit/s) like they already do when you are in your home network and exceed the e.g. 1GB limit.

    For really making roaming equal (with limits) to home network use the law should state that all terms that apply to home network use also apply to roaming use. Plus maybe the fair use term that protects the operator but does not really limit normal use.

    I could imagine something like 50% of your home network data volume with the best possible data rates and the rest might be limted to a fair 1mbit/s (only if possible of course… might be a 2/2.5G area you are roaming in ;))

    But i don’t really know how you would quantify fair use of minutes and text messages. At least i would not see a reason to write more than “i arrived safely”, “everything is okay, nice weather here”, “will be home tomorrow” when on vacation… pictures will be send via email (-> see data romaing 😉 and the few minutes of voice calls will be pretty much covered in a fair use amount… for me at least…

    Lets see, EU keeps us curious…
    But anyway, its like other developments in our society, as long as you make a difference by even talking about it (e.g. Transgender / Gay marriage acceptance) it is not really accepted enough to be treated equaly.
    I.e. roaming will always be roaming as long as there are differences in the way you are paying or are allowed to use your allowance. I’m wondering whether the difference will really cease to be in summer 2017!

  2. Hi Dominic,

    …or, to offer an alternative, by 2017, most people might use several VoIP services such as Skype, Whatsapp, etc. etc. Traditional voice service with a traditional phone number attached will be just one of many ways to stay in touch. In other words, voice would go the same way as SMS has already gone today for most people. When I look at how many people are already using mobile voice (and video) over IP today, including me, and how well it works, I dont think its a utopian scenario but rather likely to happen. In such a scenario, occasional roaming with a home SIM will cover the needs of most travelers. And if you stay longer in a country you get a local SIM and other local connectivity. No need for a phone number for those at home anymore.


  3. I already use many of these VoIP services. But getting data access for reasonable prices (even within the EU) is not so easy without a pocket full of SIMS. Frankly swapping out SIMS is becoming a chore.

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