Members of the European Parliament (EP) have approved legislation ending mobile roaming charges throughout the European Union (EU). The legislation also sets forth rules of net neutrality, requiring Internet service providers (ISPs)— with certain exceptions—to treat all web traffic equally and refrain from blocking or slowing the delivery of lawful web transmissions.
Tuesday’s EP vote was hailed by European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip as an important milestone in efforts to establish a unified, EU-wide digital market with the harmonization of telecommunications regulations throughout the 28-nation bloc. The new law bans mobile voice, text and data roaming charges effective on June 17, 2017, and sets interim caps on such charges that go into effect on April 30, 2016. Under the interim caps, roaming charges are limited to US$0.08 for outgoing mobile voice calls, $0.03 for text messages, and $0.08 per megabyte of mobile data use. According to the EP, interim caps for incoming voice calls will be announced later this year and will be “considerably lower than for outgoing calls.”
While the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking provisions of the net neutrality directive parallel those adopted previously by the FCC, the EP legislation includes exceptions that certain groups warn could provide loopholes for ISPs and other parties to circumvent the regulations. One exception allows ISPs to block or slow the delivery of content, applications or services when such action is needed to comply with court orders, alleviate network congestion or prevent cyber-attacks. Such traffic management must be “transparent, nondiscriminatory and proportionate” and must not last for any longer than is necessary. The law also allows ISPs to offer broadband network “fast lanes” for “specialized services,” such as video conferencing or e-medicine, as long as these offerings do not impede the overall flow of web traffic or affect network quality. Reiterating its support for EU-level measures on net neutrality and roaming, the European Telecommunications Network Operators called for uniform implementation by EU member states, asserting: “the common objective should be to make sure that the regulation does not pick winners and losers among countries.”