Neelie Kroes Calls For Termination Of Mobile Roaming Charges

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Neelie Kroes has called for the European Parliament to end mobile roaming charges across Europe

European Vice President Neelie Kroes has called for the ending of mobile roaming charges in Europe, and the availability of an open and free Internet, by guaranteeing net neutrality.

Kroes is a highly influential figure within the European Commission as she is responsible for the Digital Agenda and she issued her political rallying cry in a speech on Thursday to the European Parliament.

Rallying Cry

“I want you to be able to go back to your constituents and say that you were able to end mobile roaming costs,” Kroes told MEPs. “I want you to be able to say that you saved their right to access the open internet, by guaranteeing net neutrality. I want you to be able to say we took real action on cybercrime and other threats.”

European ParliamentKroes said that she expects to be able to deliver this “package” around Easter 2014.

“It will be good for Europe,” she said. “Good for the economy, yes – growth stimulated by breaking down barriers.” She said that the young generation needs a strong and digital economy to escape the unemployment trap, whilst the older population needs new digital services to stay healthy and active without losing their independence.

“If we do this right, then digital connections can bring political connections,” she said. “Digital dividends can bring social ones.”

Kroes highlighted the importance of telecoms as the glue that binds the multiple regions and people of Europe together. “Telecoms touches everything – and users are developing massive expectations of it,” she said. “Markets must function, devices must function, networks must function and investment needs to happen. We can’t afford today’s countless, needless, artificial obstacles placed in the way.”

“In telecoms, of all sectors, there is no place for borders!” she said. “It’s called a worldwide web for a reason! The time for change is now.”

Mobile Roaming

And she stressed the need to do away with mobile roaming charges for European consumers.

“And in the case of roaming, it is only if a genuine single market actually exists that roaming can cease to exist, in legal or economic terms,” she said during her rallying cry of a speech. “We have support from the highest levels in the institutions to push forward, but I can’t do it without you.”

“I believe we have enough common ground to rock the boat together, and then sail it to a harbour,” she said. “So, if you believe in the single market; if you believe in a strong Europe that makes a practical difference to each citizen’s life – then Believe. In. This. This is the opportunity to stand up and be counted. I will fight with my last breath to get us there together.”

Regulatory Fight

Despite the fine sounding rhetoric, Kroes has a real fight on her hands to drive through her proposals.

In February the Commission effectively backtracked on the net neutrality part (i.e to stop operators blocking Internet services such as Skype or slowing down traffic). Kroes said at the time that it should be up to ISPs to decide how they manage their traffic – an admission that essentially means that Net Neutrality wouldn’t become part of EU legislation.

She is also facing pressure from industry players concerned at the impact of regulatory obligations, with onerous mobile roaming regulations already fingered by some operators for increasing their costs and forcing them to cut jobs.

No More Rules

The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) told TechweekEurope that its position on the whole matter was made clear earlier this week, when it strongly objected to more “regulatory obligations.”

“ETNO strongly believes that the Single Market should not be imposed through additional regulatory obligations,” it said. “The Single Market should be driven by market forces, enabled by an investment friendly and supportive regulatory framework.”

ETNO instead called for a “full revision” of the telecoms regulatory framework.

“European telecommunications service and infrastructure providers recognise the importance of the ongoing discussion on the need for a single European market for digital services,” it said. “Investment in Europe is lagging behind other developed economies. This is partly due to fragmented markets and partly due to an unpredictable and non-harmonised regulatory environment, which still favours access seekers over investors, focuses mainly on the number of players in the market as an indicator for competition and places too little attention to a sustainable market structure. This negatively influences investments in networks.”

“Europe needs to have a leading telecommunications industry to meet EU growth objectives,” said the ETNO. “The push towards a Digital Single Market must therefore go hand in hand with a bold revision of the regulatory framework in Europe.”

This comes at a time when the EU’s budget for digital projects was in February drastically reduced from 9.2 billion euros to 1 billion euros.

Kroes has reportedly already been forced to drop the idea of having a single telecoms regulator for Europe, as well as having European-wide spectrum licences instead of national licences. In addition, the European Commission remains reluctant to sanction big deal mergers between various national mobile operators.

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