Responding to consumer backlash, the European Commission (EC) issued a revised regulatory proposal on Wednesday withdrawing the “fair usage” concession on mobile roaming that was unveiled earlier this month and that would have limited European Union (EU) mobile customers to 90 days of free “roam like home” service each year. In its place, the EC proposed to implement a regulatory framework that would mirror earlier legislative efforts to eliminate all mobile roaming fees throughout the EU effective in June 2017 but would also include safeguards to prevent abuses of the “roam like home” mechanism.
A statement issued by the EC indicates that the College of Commissioners “discussed a new approach to the fair use principle and agreed that there should be no limits in terms of timing or volume imposed on consumers when using their mobile devices abroad in the EU.” According to the EC press release, the revised regulatory proposal “will enable all travelers using a SIM card of [an EU] member state in which they reside or with which they have stable links to use their mobile device in any other country just as they would at home.” (The proposed directive, however, would apply exclusively to EU carriers and their respective customers, meaning travelers from non-EU countries such as the U.S. would be subject to roaming fees when using their devices within the EU.)
Addressing carrier concerns that the elimination of roaming fees would encourage customers to take out subscriptions in “low cost” EU countries for use in higher-cost home markets, the revised draft rules would allow operators to monitor usage patterns. If a customer’s wireless usage is deemed to be suspicious, network operators would be permitted to impose a temporary, maximum surcharge of €0.04 per minute for voice calls, €0.01 per SMS message or €0.0085 per megabyte of data use. Carriers would also be permitted to apply the same temporary surcharges in response to “price increases on a specific market or other negative effects for their domestic customers.” Affected carriers would have to “provide evidence to demonstrate that ‘roam like home’ was putting their domestic charging model at risk.”
Notwithstanding these safeguards, the revised draft was met with dismay by EU wireless network operators which, according to analysts, derive between five and six percent of their yearly revenues from roaming fees. As one industry official termed the EC proposal as “the worst case scenario,” a spokesman for the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association asserted that “a careful evaluation of all the technical, legal and economic aspects of this decision is vital.” Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for BEUC, an alliance of European consumer groups, applauded the EC’s move, declaring: “this is what consumers expect from the [digital] single market.” The EC is expected to finalize the rules in December.