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Have phone, will travel: EU roaming charges finally come to an end

But Spain’s consumer watchdogs say operators have increased prices ahead of deadline

As of today, June 15, 2017, some 500 million people throughout the European Union (EU) will be able to use their cellphones for making calls and going online in any member state without incurring so-called roaming charges; in other words, at the same price as if they were at home.

roaming
From today, it makes no difference which side of the border you're on. AFP

Despite the limitations the EU has imposed, the move will mean huge savings for consumers: a decade ago, a three-minute call meant a roaming surcharge of €2 on top of the cost of a national call.

The European Commission warns it will monitor attempts by telecoms operators to increase prices

Over the last decade, the EU has battled against the telecoms operators to impose a deadline on surcharges for calls made by customers while traveling throughout the 28-member bloc. As a result, the cost of calls has come down 92% over the last five years, while the cost of using the internet on cellphones while overseas fell by 96% over the same period.

Consumer associations in Spain have welcomed the end of roaming, describing the surcharges as “abusive.” The Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) says the move “brings the EU toward a real single market in the telecommunications sector.” For its part, the Confederation of Consumers and Users (CECU) noted: “This is a long-awaited change, one demanded and fought for by consumers’ associations.”

But Spanish consumer rights group Facua says that users will make “zero savings,” pointing out that the main operators have been steadily increasing prices over recent months in a move that, in some cases, has breached consumer protection laws.

However, while it is true that some operators have increased prices in the last 18 months, it would be rash to argue that this has been an attempt to offset losses from roaming revenue: companies are now providing high quality services and are also trying to recoup costs incurred, for instance, by huge investments made in 4G technology.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association estimates that between 2015 and 2020 the reduced cost of roaming will cost its members some €7 billion, a figure the European Commission puts at a far lower €1.2 billion, while Berec, the EU’s telecoms regulatory body, puts the losses in revenue at €4.7 billion.

Consumer NGO Facua says users will make “zero savings,” accusing operators of increasing prices

The European Commission has warned that it will be monitoring attempts by telecoms operators to increase prices, even those that include extra services, in the wake of the end roaming.

“In some countries, there are some tendencies to increase prices. This means that the national regulators and the European Commission will have to address these issues very seriously,” warns Andrus Ansip, the European Commissioner for Digital Single Market and Vice President of the European Commission.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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