The completion of the digital single market is on everyone’s mind. But it is unfortunately not the EU’s top priority. The magic of it disappears as soon as it falls on the deaf ears of member states, which have made their resistance to the achievement of a “connected Continent” quite clear, and their resolve to maintain roaming surcharges even clearer.
They must be joking. You shouldn’t be charged abusive fees solely because you use your phone outside your home country. Such out-dated practices do not belong in the 21st century. The benefits of ending roaming surcharges are legally, socially, and economically indisputable. Roaming costs should be immediately eliminated for everybody, everywhere.
In today’s Europe, physical borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant. You can easily move from one country to another to travel, to work or to study. Yet obstacles remain. The most surprising one rests in the palm of your hands: your cell phone. Every time you cross a border, you may not need to show your passport, but you do have to switch your mobile phone operator, and be prepared to pay much more than nationals do. We all live in the same Union. We all deserve the same access to telecom networks regardless of which country we step in.
In 2004, a phone call from abroad was four times more expensive than a domestic one. That’s why, as soon as I became commissioner for telecommunications that same year, I made information about roaming rates public and successively capped fees for calls, SMS, and data. Ten years and three successive regulations later, outgoing calls were capped at €0.19, SMS at €0.06, and each MB of data at €0.2, thereby successfully reducing your bills by more than 80 percent.
That’s not all. The European Commission now proposes the complete elimination of roaming charges on phone calls, and the European Parliament proposes to extend such commitment to SMS and data. Turning those promises into action is urgently needed.
Roaming makes no sense. Imagine if foreigners had to pay more for highway tolls than nationals. Would you be content to pay twice the regular fee to drive from Paris to Strasbourg? No. That would be a ridiculous arrangement, but that’s exactly what’s in place when it comes to roaming charges. National governments appear to be satisfied with this backwards-looking policy, and that’s a shame.
In Brussels, member state policies are governed by the status quo. Since 2004, they have been recycling the same dissenting arguments. Without roaming, telecom operators would not be able to invest anymore, they claim. Without roaming, telecom operators would supposedly have to increase domestic prices. These arguments were already refuted in 2007, when market development showed that the elimination of roaming made consumer prices decrease and traffic for operators increase. In other words, member states use taxes on foreigners to channel revenues to domestic companies. Isn’t that what populism is all about?
As a result, the Council of Ministers opposes setting any deadline for the abolition of roaming. National governments have said they might be willing to make concessions provided that the deadline is set in an uncertain future. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
At odds with the Council, the truly European institutions have called for a full stop to roaming — the Commission in September 2013 and the Parliament in April 2014. So what is the Council waiting for? The legislative proposal has been on the table for almost two years already. Why does it take so long to pass a legislation aimed at promoting consumers’ rights? The ball is in the Council’s court. Is it going to smash it? Or will it continue to let it bounce with no reaction?
It is high time for the general interest of the people to prevail over the private interests of telecom companies. National leaders mistakenly believe roaming fees are a win-win situation. Their small ambitions yield even smaller results.
If Europe cannot agree on roaming, the rest of the digital single market proposals will certainly fall short. The fragmentation of the European market along national borders is costly for operators and unsatisfactory for consumers. This legacy, inherited from former national monopolies, should be abandoned once for all.
Borders do not belong in the telecoms sector. Electronic communications were meant to dismantle physical barriers. To do away with roaming, legislation has to be borderless too, providing equal access for all. It’s not only about the economy. It’s about Europe, stupid!
Viviane Reding, a member of the European Parliament, is former vice-president of the European Commission in charge of justice and former commissioner for telecommunications.
Click Here: cheap kanken backpack