BRUSSELS • The European Union said yesterday that it has struck a deal to abolish mobile phone roaming charges in 2017, ending fees that are loathed by millions of holidaymakers and business travellers across Europe.
The agreement will end the frustration of EU citizens on holiday or abroad for business who face steep charges for using their phones for calls and Internet browsing when in the bloc but outside their home country.
Coming into force on June 15, 2017, the deal means "you can use your mobile device when travelling in the EU, paying the same prices as at home", the European Commission (EC) said.
"If you pay for a monthly volume of minutes, SMS and data in your country, any voice call, SMS and data session you make while travelling abroad in the EU will be deducted from that as if you were at home, with no extra charges," the EU said.
The deal was reached following discussions stretching back to 2013 in overnight talks between the Latvian presidency of the EU and the European Parliament.
It still needs formal approval by the Parliament, as well as 28 governments. It was also des- cribed as "provisional".
"This is the end of a long process and we're delighted we managed to produce a result that will mean concrete improvement for citizens in the single market," EC spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels.
Before the full deal comes into effect, data roaming charges will be slashed from April next year to 5 euro cents (7 Singapore cents) per minute for calls, 2 euro cents per SMS and 5 euro cents per megabyte of data. Under current EU rules, the cap stands at 19 euro cents per minute for calls, 6 euro cents per SMS and 20 euro cents per megabyte of data.
Providers will still be allowed to apply a "fair use policy" to prevent "abusive" use of roaming, the European Council said.
Mr Bert Van Roosebeke, a political analyst from think-tank the Centre for European Policy, said it was possible that domestic prices will rise as telecom companies respond to the ruling.
A principle of "net neutrality" is also being introduced under which operators will be obliged to treat all traffic equally when providing Internet access services and not impose any blocking or "throttling" - slowing down Internet traffic.
That is designed to eliminate the paid prioritisation of traffic, subject to limited exemptions such as countering cyber attacks.
Providers not respecting the rules face "significant pecuniary and administrative sanctions", the EC said.