EU Parliament: End roaming charges by 2015, permit ‘specialized’ net services

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The source of an estimated one-fifth of wireless carrier revenue in the European Union will become a historical remnant on Dec. 15, should draft legislation passed Thursday by the E.U. Parliament be affirmed by a new parliament which convenes next month. The 2014 E.U. telecoms package has passed its last major hurdle before becoming the law of the continent, effectively ending roaming charges for voice, data and text across member countries’ boundaries.

Given the current parliament’s vote of 534 to 25, with 58 abstaining, that affirmation is essentially assured.

With more European citizens traveling between countries to and from work regularly, sometimes across more than one border, roaming charges and tariffs were often more miserable for them than highway tolls. Back in 2007, citing the apparent unwillingness of carriers to publicly work together to reduce these tariffs–and implying they might have worked together privately to do just the opposite–the European Commission began imposing maximum price caps for roaming.

Those caps were reduced further in July 2012, and are still slated for further cuts this July: Roaming charges for outgoing voice calls will be capped at €0.19 per minute, down from €0.24 currently. Roaming charges for SMS texts will be capped at €0.06 per minute (down from €0.08), and data downloads across countries’ boundaries can accrue no more than €0.20 per megabyte, down from €0.45 currently and €0.70 in 2012.

Prior to the imposition of caps seven years ago, carriers freely charged nearly €7 per minute (note there’s no decimal point there) for roaming.

Thanks to rising roaming rates elsewhere in the world, coupled with the continually increasing number of mobile users worldwide, carrier revenue from roaming charges alone was on pace to soar to $42 billion annually by 2018, according to Juniper Research–nearly half of all wireless carrier revenue. But that might not happen now, as Juniper admits, having predicted that passage of the new law would reduce European carriers’ revenue for 2016 by over 20 percent.

Thursday’s draft telecoms measure includes language authored by MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera (People’s Party–Spain), allowing high-speed services on Internet networks to be treated as specialized, so long as they don’t degrade service elsewhere in the Internet. While Parliament declares this measure an encoding of net neutrality principles into law, advocacy groups and industry organizations characterize the language as akin to a “separate-but-equal” clause.

In a statement to FierceEnterpriseCommunications before the vote last week, Luigi Gambardella, chairman of the telecom union ETNO, warned, “If the restrictive changes to the Open Internet provisions are confirmed in the final text, the access of European users and businesses to our services will be affected. This would turn into a dangerous situation, in which the European digital economy will suffer and E.U. businesses will be put in a difficult competitive situation with respect to other areas of the world.”

For more:
– read the TruTower article on Juniper’s findings

By Jarrett Neil Ridlinghafer 
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