Mobile phone roaming charge abolition plan rewritten

Tourist with phoneImage source, Thinkstock

Proposed time limits on surcharge-free roaming for travellers using mobile phones have been scrapped under new European Commission plans.

Last year, the European Parliament agreed that roaming charges faced by EU travellers using a mobile phone would be abolished in June 2017.

Officials suggested that charges would only be banned for 90 days a year.

That plan has now been replaced with permission for operators to check the system is not being abused.

"We will not put any kind of limits on duration or, how many days [travellers] can enjoy no roaming surcharges, but we decided to put some clear safeguards on residency," EU commissioner for the digital single market, Andrus Ansip, said.

Bill shocks

An interim limit on roaming charges has been in place since April, with a full ban to be in place from 15 June, 2017. From that point, users within the EU will be charged the same as they would be in their home country.

The aim of the ban, in part, is to prevent EU consumers being caught out by huge bills when downloading films or other data during their European holidays.

There have been a number of cases when mobile users have been landed with bills for hundreds of euros or pounds.

Image source, AFP

There was a stumbling block in negotiations between EU officials and the phone operators on how to abolish roaming surcharges.

Operators were concerned that phone users could simply sign up for a better deal in countries in other parts of the EU, then use surcharge-free roaming in their home country. They said costs were specific to each country.

As a result, original plans would have let companies charge roaming fees to consumers who used their phones abroad for more than 90 days in a year or for more than 30 days in a row.

"The draft was not technically wrong," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his state of the union address. "But it missed the point of what was promised.

"When you roam, it should be like at home."


The revised plans, published on Wednesday, allows operators to challenge customers if they detect the device is not being used for periodic travel usage.

Checks can include long inactivity of a Sim card or use of multiple Sim cards by the same user whilst roaming.

The user will be notified and told that they face a surcharge, but they have the right to appeal.

An EU official said: "If someone is found to have gone beyond a period in which they have lost real association with their country of origin, then surcharges can apply. There would be no retroactive billing."

Protections are in place for frequent work commuters, expats who are often in their home country, and Erasmus students.

The plans are now being put to regulators, member states, and interested parties - including mobile operators - before final rules are set in mid-December.

Telecom and mobile operators' associations, the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and the GSMA said they would look at the new proposal and provide feedback.

Critics of the overall abolition of roaming charges suggest the loss of revenue for mobile phone companies could push up prices in general, including prices for non-travellers.

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