End of roaming charges: informal deal on wholesale market reform

Council of the EU
  • 01/02/2017
  • 08:00
  • Press release
  • 36/17
  • Telecommunications
01/02/2017
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The abolition of mobile roaming fees for consumers by the summer will be secured by a steep drop in maximum wholesale roaming prices. On 31 January 2017 the Council presidency reached a provisional agreement with the European Parliament on new wholesale caps, which will be around 90% lower than current ones. Wholesale roaming reform is the last piece of legislation required before retail roaming fees can be abolished on 15 June 2017. This informal agreement still has to be confirmed by EU member states and the full Parliament. 

The reform determines how much operators may charge each other for using their networks to provide roaming services. The new caps must be low enough to make it possible for operators to offer surcharge-free roaming to their customers without increasing domestic prices. At the same time, they need to be high enough so that operators in visited countries are able to recover their costs without increasing their domestic retail prices. In addition, the caps should allow for continuing maintenance and upgrading of networks, so that people can enjoy smooth connectivity everywhere - from the most crowded holiday spots to the most remote regions in Europe. 

As the use of data has been increasing exponentially in recent years and is expected to continue to do so, the most crucial part of the reform is the new cap for data. With the end of roaming fees, data usage abroad is also expected to soar since consumers will not need to search for wifi hotspots to make surfing affordable. 

Dr Emmanuel Mallia, the Maltese Minister for Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy, said: "Reaching a quick agreement on wholesale roaming prices was a top priority for the Maltese presidency. Today's decision is the final step in a process that started ten years ago. From next summer, wherever they are travelling in Europe, our citizens will be able to make calls, send texts, surf and stay connected. Roam like at home is now a reality." 

Caps for wholesale roaming services 

Under the agreement, on 15 June 2017 the maximum wholesale charge for data will drop from the current cap of €50/GB to €7.7/GB and then continue to decrease in stages: from 1 January 2018 the maximum charge will be €6.0/GB, from 1 January 2019 €4.5/GB, from 1 January 2020 €3.5/GB, from 1 January 2021 €3.0/GB and, finally, from 1 January 2022 €2.5/GB. 

This progressive decrease in data caps reflects the expectation that increasing use of mobile data services, combined with greater economies of scale, new technologies and effective competition, will reduce the cost of providing wholesale roaming services over the coming years. This agreed approach makes the caps significantly lower than the fixed cap of €8.5/GB originally proposed by the Commission, while still allowing businesses to invest in the upcoming fifth generation of mobile networks (5G). 

On 15 June 2017 the maximum wholesale surcharge for voice calls will be cut from €0.05/min to €0.032/min. The cap for text messages will decrease from €0.02 to €0.01 per message. 

Together with the retail fair use policy, these new cap levels will help ensure that the end of roaming charges is sustainable across the EU. 

Rules to be reviewed every two years 

The Commission will have to report every two years on how the rules are working and propose new caps if appropriate. The first report is due by 15 December 2019. 

What next? 

The presidency will submit the outcome of the talks for approval by member states in the coming weeks. The new rules must be in place by 15 June 2017 so that roaming fees can be abolished as laid down in the roaming regulation adopted in 2015.