It’s decided: free mobile roaming in the European Union will continue at least until 2032, following the approval of a new regulation by the European Parliament and Council.
The “roam like at home” initiative allows people travelling in EU countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their national plans at no extra cost. If the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is capped (in 2022 at €0.032 per minute for voice calls, €0.01 per text message and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded).
The regulation came into effect in 2017 for an initial period of five years and was due to expire on 30 June 2022. The EU has however decided to extend it for another ten years, with some improvements.
Under new rules, travellers should benefit of the same quality of service they have at home. For instance, if they have a 5G contract, they should also get 5G abroad, where available.
EU countries will have to protect consumers from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on non-terrestrial networks when travelling on boats or planes, or when they are in regions bordering non-EU countries.
Operators will have to inform their customers about extra charges when calling customer service or helpdesk numbers that are usually free of charge from home but are expensive from abroad, so they can decide whether to dial in.
The new roaming regulation further lowers wholesale charges, the price operators charge each other when their customers use other networks. These will be capped at €2 per gigabyte of data from 2022 and will reduce progressively to €1 in 2027.
For calls the cap is €0.022 euros per minute in 2022-2024 and 0.019 from 2025 onwards. For SMS it is €0.004 in 2022-2024 and 0.003 from 2025.
If consumers exceed their allowance, additional charges cannot be higher than the wholesale caps.
Operators will have to provide travellers with information about the European emergency number, 112, or its alternatives, with non-voice options for users with special needs.
In the coming years, the Commission will assess whether the costs of intra-EU calls, currently capped at €0.19 per minute, can be further reduced.
Ursula Pachl, Deputy Director General at European Consumer Organisation BEUC, said: “One of the EU’s greatest success stories for consumers continues with this extension and improvement to the EU’s roaming rules. The ban on roaming charges inside the EU will remain and consumers will now be entitled to the same quality of service as at home when they are roaming. These are aspects consumers really value when they travel and show some of the tangible benefits the EU single market can generate for people.”
Pachl however added that “intra-EU calls and messages are still a thorn for consumers in the EU telecoms market” as “calling somebody in another country is often prohibitively expensive”.
European Parliament rapporteur Angelika Winzig recently called on EU telecoms operators to allow free roaming for Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion of the country. Several European mobile operators are now offering free calls and no roaming charges to Ukraine.
The new EU regulation does not apply to the United Kindgom. As a result of the country withdrawal from the bloc, four major UK mobile phone operators have reintroduced roaming charges for customers travelling to the EU and some EU operators did the same for people travelling to the UK.
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved
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