mobile-roamingWhat has the European Union ever given us, eh? Apart from aqueducts, of course. And peace across the continent. And budget air travel. And lower roaming charges. Ok, maybe not the aqueducts.

Cutting mobile and data roaming charges, however, has long been held up as one of the most popular EU policies. Assuming you own one of these newfangled “mobile telephones”, you may already have received a message from your provider telling you that roaming charges will be halved from the beginning of this month. And the EU wants to go even further. Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to cut all roaming charges within the EU to zero by December 2015.

We recently spoke to Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, about the cap and the EU’s “digital market”.

We started with a comment from Jakub, who said he wanted the complete abolition of all mobile roaming charges in Europe. The consumers might like it, but is this a realistic policy?

kroesAbsolutely. We proposed it last September, and in April the European Parliament voted to end roaming charges in the EU by December 2015. So, great news! And I think you would certainly agree we should know what we are buying, we shouldn’t be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our minds – and that is also part of the package [of laws voted on by the European Parliament]. So, we should not be forever connected with one operator because [of a restrictive contract].

A lot of politicians in Europe speak about the importance of the “digital market” (including the incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has made it his number one priority). However, we had a comment from Iulian who thinks we really have a long way to go. He describes the EU’s digital market as still too fragmented and says there are too many internal obstacles for businesses, which is why we haven’t seen a European Facebook, Microsoft, Google or Apple. Do you agree?

kroesCompletely. Europe is still too fragmented, and everyone in European can now travel freely across borders, and study in different countries, and have their qualifications recognised everywhere. So, if we can achieve that, then we should be able to achieve a complete digital Single Market. And, for me, a digital Single Market means absolutely clear rules on products and services sold over the internet.

Not everybody shares your optimism. Mike, for example, doesn’t think the digital future looks good in Europe. He thinks we can’t compete with the US for innovation, and argues it will soon be easier and cheaper for ICT and digital services to be outsourced to countries such as India and China. Is he right?

kroesNot completely. I’m far more optimistic than Mike, so that is my starting point. There’s still a lot to do. By the way, in the 1990′s, Europe was leading the world in mobile phones thanks to the GSM standard. We have lost our edge and, for me, that is even more reason for us to do our utmost to take a leading position again.

We have so much talent in Europe – we have bright, young innovators, we have start-ups; they are passionate, they are intelligent and they are brilliant entrepreneurs. We can make it, so let’s go for it.

Our final question came from Jenny, who wanted to know what the EU is doing to ensure the “digital divide” in Europe doesn’t increase further, in terms of inequality in access and knowledge of ICT? With so much discussion about poverty and inequality in the EU today, how can we ensure Europe isn’t divided between the digital “haves” and “have-nots”?

kroesA very fascinating question. It is one of my leading considerations when approaching policy and strategy. I don’t want to have a digital divide in Europe. Not at all. Every European should have access to the benefits of information technology, and we are working very hard to bridge the digital divide in Europe. Everything we do under the umbrella of the digital agenda is aimed at this.

Just one example: last October we succeeded – and I’m proud of this – in achieving 100% basic broadband access across the whole of Europe. Not all the rural areas were that easy, so sometimes we have to work with satellite broadband associations, but we got the final percentage: 100%.

And we published the digital agenda scoreboard for Europe, which will hopefully just push those who are a bit behind the countries that are making good progress in ICT skills and broadband uptake. And I also encourage everyone to start coding, because those skills could open so many opportunities and, as the digital economy becomes more important, Europe will need people to run it.

On 1 July, data and mobile roaming charges were cut across the EU. Do you support abolishing them completely by December 2015? Or is this something most Europeans don’t care about? Is Europe becoming divided between the digital “haves” and “have-nots”? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Simona

45 comments Post a commentComment

What do YOU think?

  1. ironworker

    Huh ? First thing that came in my mind was “Where is the catch?” The catch is the fact that the europeans are not so related to each other, “au contraire”, I might say.

  2. proactive

    Q: Do you support abolishing them completely by December 2015?
    A: Of course!

    Normally every country has a “Constitutional Mandate” for an “Independent Communications Authority”- within the “Department of Communications”- the EU’s closest so far to it is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_of_European_Regulators_of_Electronic_Communications

    Should it not oversee:

    * to license broadcasters, signal distributors, providers of telecommunication
    services and postal services;
    * to make regulations;
    * to impose license conditions;
    * to plan, assign, control, enforce and manage the frequency spectrum;
    * to ensure international and regional co-operation;
    * to ensure the efficient allocation of numbers;
    * to ensure inter operability of networks;
    * to receive and resolve complaints
    * to create competition…& many more……….?

    These are not parliamentary functions at all- but delegated to an “independent body”! Next one please!

  3. Yvetta

    yes, it’s all one country now, isn’t it?

  4. catherine benning

    It is absurd it was ever otherwise, So, yes, of course get rid of the right to rob the citizens.

  5. Foteini

    I think the roaming charges should be zero. Dont we want a united europe and all european citizens communucating without being overcharged for this?

  6. Alvaro Gellon

    Is this for real? I mean I like debates, but some of these questions are absolutely stupid! What deranged consumer would want to pay more for the same services just because they’re in another country?

  7. Pedro Jesus

    Alvaro Gellon it might not be usefull for you this question but for me who is always outside his country it is.

  8. Conrad Wallenrod

    It’s obvious and not so obvious. I a, customer of Vodafone and they have sent me a text that as direct effect of cutting prices of roaming they increase the prices of other services on the national level.

  9. Gatis Gailitis

    Voice calls and data plans should apply for whole EU territory too or at least a weekly roaming plans should exist in every network. Say. Agree to pay 10 quid and get 5 GB of data.

  10. Dani Alexandrov

    Yes of course, they have to be abolished! In united Europe Family (EU) got no place for roaming in my opinion!

  11. Jere ˚͜˚ Finne

    Just by looking at this factor solely it is good news for us consumers, but I think we should look at the industry as a whole. Service providers are already talking about increasing the cost of data charges because of increased expenses on infrastructure of 3G -> 4G -> 5G (in the future) network. I believe we will soon(ish) see a cost structure in transfer of mobile data that is more based on the actual use.

  12. Matthew Carroll

    The EU have these prices set at certain amounts so that means even now sending a text is cheaper abroad than it is at home, which will cause networks to make up the change somewhere else – more likely upping the prices at home. I think the EU should have just set the rules so that the prices would be the same as their home country, not as a set value!

  13. Matthew Carroll

    The EU have these prices set at certain amounts so that means even now sending a text is cheaper abroad than it is at home, which will cause networks to make up the change somewhere else – more likely upping the prices at home. I think the EU should have just set the rules so that the prices would be the same as their home country, not as a set value!

  14. Tarquin Farquhar

    DEBATINGEUROPE
    Aqueducts, Peace, Budget Air Travel! LOL!

    Next you will be saying that the EU is responsible for the ORBIT OF THE SUN.

    The EU has helped regarding ‘Roaming Charges’ BUT at the end of the day a few quid saved making phone calls is NO substitute for a proper democracy.

  15. Catalin Vasile

    Of course! It is not right for a company that owns branches in many E.U. countries to bill roaming charges!

  16. Florin Holban

    halle effing lujah…. ‘union’ ring any bell? point one for christiane vermoortel. now cutting and eliminating some revenues will somehow be compensated in other ways, unless the carriers accept of the goodness of their heart to make less money :)

  17. Pedro Redondeiro

    That is not even a question its a reality, by december 2015 the romaning charges are gone for good! ;)

  18. Stefania Portici

    si , si, siamo contenti. Pero’ abbiamo fame e di parlare al telefono…viene dopo aver mangiato. Quando potremmo riavere il tenore di vita cio’ che la UE ci ha tolto ? Anche prima di entrare nella UE , con le tasche piene , potevamo telefonare facendo un prefisso….ora , costa meno ma quel meno lo usiamo per i beni primari. Chi ne usufruisce !? I pochi ricchi ? I pochi fortunati o sfortunati perche’ sono costretti ad emigrare !? Gira al contrario di come dovrebbe girare

  19. Kevin

    Its up to the companies . Free market means they can charge what they like , We as consumers are free to go elsewhere for our phones . In Europe this maybe works better than the UK as I understand phones sold in Europe come unlocked where as in the UK you buy into a provider .

  20. Al

    There should be absolutely no roaming charges within the union. Outside of the EU but still in Europe, i.e Switzerland, Norway etc then ok. Charging people within the union strongly apposes the ethos and propagates animosity.

  21. Marcel

    This scandalous ‘debate’ opens up with the patently false claim that the undemocratic EU and its predecessors brought us peace.

    NATO and the US/Soviet Mutually Assured Destruction did that! As soon as that disappeared, EEC diplomatic intervention in Yugoslavia brought two civil wars.

    Again, its a thing here that the anti-democracy (= pro-EU) crowd wants all the benefits but none of the drawbacks. Total integration would mean significant reductions in income, welfare and pensions throughout western Europe. It is baffling to me that so many are yet to understand that you cannot aggregate wealth at the highest level.

    So where will the telephone companies make money now? By hiking national charges of course.

    Another one of those ‘unintended consequences’ I am quite sure.

    Who elected the undemocratic Eurosoviet Politburo and Kommissar Kroes anyway? How come some unelected kommissar has the right to overrule democratic national policies?

  22. williamphillips1@mail.com

    Yes we should its stupid as we are a country now, how can you charge some one more money because they have gone to a different location in the same place (Derp!).

  23. les templar

    Roaming charges should be banned and I hope its correct that they are going to be abolished

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