On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed abolishing time limits on charge-free mobile phone roaming, which has been included in next year’s plan which has already been set to abolish similar tariffs.
Two weeks ago, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker somewhat quickly ordered the previous proposal to be redrafted, in an effort to truly make good on the existing pledge to do away with roaming charges. And now the EU executive is seeking more public support after the Brexit, which encouraged anti-establishment parties.
Of course, millions of Europeans frequently cross nearby borders and this group has been loudly irritated by these charges, which incur when making calls and using data outside their home country. And, moreso, that these charges appear to be somewhat outrageous.
Originally, the Commission had proposed “fair use” roaming to allow for consumers to roam for as many as 90 days per year and for no more than 30 consecutive days but only requiring them to pay their local, domestic phone prices.
According to Andrus Ansip, who is the European Commission Vice-President for the digital single market, did say, though, that there will no longer be a formal limit on surcharge-free roaming once these new rules go into effect in June, next year.
He explains, “We will not put any limit in terms of days… but we decided to put clear safeguards in terms of residency.”
Accordingly, mobile operators like Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom will still be able to check usage patterns of their consumers in order to ensure that they do not abuse this new system by, for example, buying a cheap SIM card in one EU country and then bringing it across a border to permanently use it in another EU country.
Of course, the burden of proof for this will fall on the phone companies, who will now have to demonstrate if and when a customer is abusing this free roaming privilege—And it is a privilege, of course—without simultaneously violating data protection rules that limit this type of online habit tracking.
“It is an interesting pro-consumer measure against the backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment in many member states,” comments Rob Bratby, who is a telecoms partner at law firm Olswang. “However,” he continues, “it feels a little like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic if it is supposed to reconnect EU citizens with Europe.”
He also notes that it would not be right for a native German, for example, could drink beer in Sweden at a cheaper German price without restriction.