Holiday phone bills will get cheaper but has the open Internet been safeguarded?
The European Parliament has voted to abolish roaming charges within the European Union (EU) but has rejected proposed amendments to a separate net neutrality bill that campaigners said would have eliminated ‘loopholes’ that threatened the open Internet.
The European Commission (EC) has hailed the elimination of additional fees as evidence of the EU working for consumers and the first step towards a common European telecoms market – even if more must be done to overcome “national silos” and spectrum harmonisation.
“Roaming charges will be soon old memories and we will get for the first time ever net neutrality rules in EU law,” said European Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger. “These rules protect the right of every European to access the content of their choice, without interference or discrimination. They will avoid fragmentation in the single market, creating legal certainty for businesses and making it easier for them to work across border.”
Additional charges for data, calls and texts have been capped for the past few years, with reductions taking place each year. Operators have resisted the changes because of the potential impact on revenue. Some have suggested mobile tariffs might be increased to cover the shortfall.
“This could be a major win for consumers who have been especially vulnerable to roaming charges since the smartphone market exploded and mobile data consumption soared,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch. “But the major concern is if and how mobile operators will recover their costs because we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
“If this regulation change isn’t properly managed, higher mobile phone bills for all may just prove to be the sting in the tail, with infrequent travellers drawing the short straw.”
It should also be pointed out there is an unspecified ‘fair use’ policy to prevent people from getting a cheaper deal outside their home country and permanently roam in another.
But while net neutrality legislation has now been enshrined in European law for the first time, some are concerned that without the proposed amendments, the wording is ambiguous enough for the feared loopholes to be abused.
These include one which would permit the paid prioritisation of Internet traffic for “specialised services” that require “specific levels of quality”, with examples including IPTV, high-definition videoconferencing, and health care services such as telesurgery.
The bill also says the slowing down or blocking of specific content would be prohibited “with only a limited number of exceptions and only for as long as it is necessary.” Cited examples include cyber attacks and spam assaults.
“These problems jeopardise the future of the startup innovation and economic growth in the EU,” wrote Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford Law School, in an open letter signed by a number of companies. “They also create barriers for US startups and businesses seeking to enter the EU market.”
However, if the amendments had been approved, the bill would have been sent back to the European Council, further delaying its implementation.
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