EU roaming charge agreement crucial

Europe with flags - Wikimedia CommonsThe European Union’s digital chief has said that failure to solve the last remaining barrier to abolishing mobile roaming charges across the bloc would lead people to question its ability to deliver on promises.

EU lawmakers and member states are set to hold a third round of talks today on where to set caps for the wholesale roaming charges telecom operators pay each other when their customers call, send texts or surf the web abroad.

It has taken Brussels a decade to reach the point where its citizens will be able to use their phones abroad without paying extra.

European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said that it was important to get the agreement sorted out because Brussels has sought to show it works for ordinary citizens.

He called on the negotiators to start showing some “significant flexibility” to achieve a final agreement

The two sides remain far apart on where the wholesale caps for data should be set, with the European Parliament pushing for an initial cap of 4 euros ($4) per gigabyte while member states want it to start at 8.5 euros per gigabyte.

Ansip wrote that if no political compromise can be achieved, people will rightly question its common will and ability to deliver on its promises.

“That is a risk we should not run,” Ansip wrote.

The split on wholesale roaming caps stems from wide differences in domestic prices and travel patterns across the bloc.

Countries in northern and eastern Europe with low domestic prices and generous packages favour lower wholesale caps to avoid companies raising prices in their home markets, effectively making poorer customers subsidize frequent travellers.

Countries in the tourist-magnet south worry that their operators could be forced to hike domestic prices to accommodate the seasonal tourist traffic. They also fear operators will put off investment in networks if foreign operators can gain cheap access to their infrastructure and undercut them domestically.