Telecommunications companies in the European Union would be banned from charging premiums for roaming services under a proposal adopted by the European Commission that also seeks to ensure “net neutrality” for Internet users.
Under the plan, consumers in the EU would no longer have to pay to receive calls while traveling in the 28-nation bloc as of mid-2014, the commission, the EU executive, said yesterday in Brussels. Telecom providers could choose to offer phone plans that apply everywhere in the region or let customers opt for a separate roaming provider without having to buy a new SIM card.
EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has championed lowering roaming charges and unified rules for telecom networks to spur investment in Europe, which is behind the U.S. and Asia in rolling out fourth-generation wireless systems and is struggling to provide high-speed Internet. The EU accounts for 6 percent of the world’s 4G subscriptions, while the U.S., Japan and South Korea have 88 percent, according to Kroes.
“Every day the gap is growing,” Kroes said at a briefing today in Brussels. “We badly need high-quality networks,” she said, adding that the proposals would help boost the entire economy as it recovers from six quarters of contraction, its longest recession on record.
“It’s about how digital technology can boost all economic sectors,” Kroes said. “Fixing the telecoms sector is no longer about this one sector but about supporting the sustainable development of all sectors.”
The proposal would ban the blocking and slowing of Internet content, though carriers will be allowed to charge more for high-end services such as video-on-demand and other data-intensive features as long as other customers aren’t affected. Consumers would have the right to check whether they are receiving the Internet speeds they pay for and to end contracts if commitments aren’t met, the commission said.
Consumers across the EU also would have the same rights to shorter minimum contracts. Companies would benefit from a single authorization for them to operate in all EU countries, and easier and greater access to spectrum that is key to 4G mobile services, Wi-Fi and other services, according to the EU.
The proposal must be approved by the European Parliament and EU governments before it becomes law.
“Our proposal will strengthen guarantees and lower prices for consumers, and present new opportunities for companies,” Jose Barroso, president of the Brussels-based commission, said yesterday in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “Isn’t it a paradox that we have an internal market for goods, but when it comes to the digital market we have 28 national markets?”
The commission has said it wants to give all Europeans access to Internet speeds of more than 30 megabits per second and that half the EU should have connections faster than 100 Mbps by 2020. The average downloading speed currently is about 20 Mbps, according to the commission.