Telecom Operators

EU’s first step toward “free roaming” will come into effect in June

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

The first step has been taken toward implementing “free roaming” for the European Union. The bloc came to an agreement that travelers will no longer have to pay roaming charges for using their mobile phones within the EU. The new arrangement will take effect in June this year.

“This was the last piece of the puzzle. As of June 15, Europeans will be able to travel in the EU without roaming charges,” said Andrus Ansip, the European Commission’s vice president for the Digital Single Market.

The “free roaming” promise within the EU was first mentioned in Brussels in early 2015. But the plan was delayed after telecom operators in tourist hub areas such as Italy and Spain complained about how the deal’s effects could threaten to increase domestic prices to pay for travelers from northern Europe using their networks.

Some telcos expressed concern that “free roaming” would in effect make poorer Europeans in the south pay for wealthy tourists contacting home or surfing for data while on holiday. The reason being roaming charges have been a lucrative source of revenue for telecom companies in southern Europe.

To ease the concerns of telecom operators, negotiators for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU’s 28 member states agreed on a scale of wholesale charges that operators pay each other when customers use their mobile phones abroad. The deal is still awaiting final approval by the European Parliament and member states, but it’s said that this is just a formality.

In a move that angered consumer advocates, the European Commission had said in December that "free roaming" would have some limits to ensure there was no abuse of the new system. Telecoms operators would be able to closely track usage and crack down on users unfairly taking advantage of cheaper phone deals available in other EU countries.