EU Roaming – one step forward, one step back

In under a year, the European Union’s plan to eliminate mobile roaming charges across the whole of Europe will be in place. There has been a bit of movement over the last few weeks, and while it was thought that some advances had been made, the EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker, stepped in to slow things down. Here’s a breakdown of what happened. On the 6th September, plans were announced to introduce a 90-day Fair Use Policy for Europe-wide roaming. Users would be limited to 90 days of European roaming per year, and for 30 consecutive days at a time. These provisions were added to safeguard the interests of local telecoms operators in the individual states. If, for example, the operators in a large and populous European country offered rates that were lower than an operator in a smaller country, domestic users in that smaller country could use a SIM from the larger company. This would cause huge problems for the telecoms providers in that smaller country, who would already be hurting from the loss of any European roaming revenue that they would have previously received – this would potentially put them out of business. However, there was an immediate backlash from consumers, particularly pensioners, many of whom take cruise tours of Europe that last significantly longer than 30 days at a time. Many believed that when the EU said they were abolishing roaming across Europe, they should do so without time limits – including President Juncker who immediately sent the proposals back to the drawing board. While the new proposals are expected to be revealed later this week (we’ll keep you updated), that wasn’t the only thing the EU President had to say. He went on to make a range of further promises, including free WIFI in public places, a working 5G network in at least one city in each EU member state, and a reform of the EU’s digital copyright rules. While his proposals are both generous to consumers and ambitious, some of them have been received incredibly poorly. For example, his digital copyright reform is being seen as protection for traditional publishers (ie newspapers) at the expense of innovators such as Google by forcing them to pay to replicate content online. In addition, the removal of the Fair Use Policy from the roaming plans is not going to make telecoms operators happy – a fact that could come back to bite the EU Commission when it comes to implementation of their plans for 5G connectivity. 5G doesn’t currently exist, but will be ready by 2018, at which point there will be an auction of the available spectrum. Traditionally, these auctions have brought in billions in bids for home nations. But if operators feel like they’ve been harshly treated over the loss of roaming revenue (which in some countries is over $2.5 billion per year), they might be less inclined to spend huge amounts of money for a 5G license – something that has traditionally provided a huge boost to a country’s annual revenue. Whatever the EU Commission decides, it’s clear that many eyes will be watching with interest to see whether they can come up with a deal that satisfies everyone – or whether their quest to bring huge multinationals to heel will cause bigger problems further down the line.