Roaming limits in EU binned as Brussels backtracks from farcical plans

Europe was all set to wipe out mobile roaming charges from next year, but recent events in Brussels suggest that the move may not be as easy.

European Commission is forced to withdraw its proposal to impose limits on mobile roaming from next year.

The European Commission recently unveiled a new set of rules which will be applicable on mobile roaming in Europe from June of next year. While existing rules called for permanently banning roaming charges, the new rules were supposed to limit bans for 90 days a year or 30 consecutive days. Say, for example, you are planning on visiting your cousin in Berlin during next year's summer for a couple of months. Once you spend the first thirty days, your UK network operator will notify you that you've been staying away for more than 30 days and will then impose a surcharge on your internet usage as well as on calls and texts, thus making your phone usage costlier than it is supposed to be.

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Similarly, spending three or more months away in Europe in a calendar year were also supposed to invite surcharge on mobile usage. The exact surcharge rates haven't been finalised but were to be determined by EU member states next year. However, in a turn of events, the European Commission has confirmed that it will impose no such restrictions on roaming from next year, but operators will be able to track SIM usage to check if the facility gets abused and impose charges after informing such consumers.

The earlier decision to impose limits seemed surprising given that the European Commission has so far been absolutely committed to kick out roaming services in the continent. It was more likely an after-thought to accommodate the concerns of network providers across member countries who feared that sweeping bans on roaming charges could allow a lot of users to abuse the system and go for the cheapest SIM offers in certain countries and use them in others where prevailing rates are much higher, thus inflicting severe losses on networks.

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Roaming charges in Europe have come down a lot from their levels a decade ago and are set to be completely eliminated from next year, except for what the European Commission thinks are reasonable restrictions to protect both parties. While the earlier ruling, on which the EU has not backtracked, may not have affected those who travel for short periods and for leisure, frequent travellers would have taken it as a major let-down by the EU. However, the concerns of network operators are legitimate as well and the Commission may not have any option but to take a balanced view, but which may have arrived a bit too late for comfort.

As of now, British travellers have to pay up just €0.05 per minute of calling, €0.02 per text and €0.05 per MB of internet data consumed while roaming in the EU region. While the European Commission now stands by its commitment to scrap roaming charges from next year, it will be interesting to see if operators will yet again be able to turn its head and get a ruling in favour of limited roaming charges.

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