The European Union (EU) said yesterday mobile companies cannot pick apart single market reforms to mobile telecommunications within Europe. A plan to abolish roaming charges throughout Europe by 2016 was tabled raising fierce criticisms from industry.
The proposals from Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for Digital Affairs, seek to abolish roaming charges and enforce a single market for Internet, broadband and mobile services. Ms Kroes is also Vice President of the European Commission and hopes to push these changes through the legislature by next May, prior to European elections. The proposals will be discussed by Europe's national leaders at a European summit later this month.
The proposal has met fierce resistance from telecoms providers and lobbyists anxious about the changes a single market for mobile phones and broadband would impose on their businesses. They argue that they will lose money and important investment revenues will no longer be available.
Tackling roaming charges has been a key EU issue over several years now, based on the exorbitant charges telecoms providers used to provide, although in recent years the roaming charges have reduced considerably. Key to these new proposals is the issue of "full and fair access" to mobile phone and Internet services no matter where consumers travel within Europe and adding increased consumer protection and rights incorporated within contracts.
Ms Kroes said: "Which of you honestly thinks that roaming surcharges within Europe will still be around in three years? Which of you thinks your customers would long tolerate an internet service where you decide what they can or can't access? Which of you in this audience thinks that you can sustain a business model which consists of charging over the odds for intra-European calls and texts, beyond 2016? … roaming is on its way out, one way or the other."
She added that abolishing roaming charges will remove single-market barriers, produce a level playing field and is consistent with net neutrality rules across the EU, saying: "This is a package. You can't take it apart."
She concluded as follows: "We all know today's gloomy outlook for telecoms in Europe. Revenues down, investments weak, expansion unattractive. You face many barriers, and can't reach the scale to compete globally, while ordinary users just see poor connectivity, a narrow range of choices, and continued reminders of national borders.
"The telecoms sector will ultimately benefit from this package. But that is not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it for European growth and European jobs – the 1% of GDP we could gain with a true telecoms single market."