Michael Contreras

The twenty-first century is such an incredible time to be alive: only thirty years ago, the only way to reach somebody as soon as possible to communicate important news was either with your landline phone or, if you were not at home, by barging into a shop or bar to use their own or finding a phone booth in the streets. Watching films and listening to music was, needless to say, confined to cinemas or the intimacy of your own bedroom. In the last decades we have made giant leaps in the technology of mobile telephony, which allows us to carry what is in fact a powerful mini-computer in the comfort of our pockets, always keeping us up to date with the rest of the world. We can comfortably keep in contact with people from all over the world, download music and video content like never before and even write nonsense on social media for the world to see, even while moving across the European Union. All of that, of course, comes at a price. It is a truth universally acknowledged that roaming fees are among the most obnoxious things in life, after the questions of your relatives at the Christmas table and the knots in your earphones when you pull them out of your pockets.

But what exactly is a roaming fee? A roaming fee is a payment offered to a foreign mobile operator in order to use their infrastructure to connect to your home mobile company. Technically, roaming may occur even within your home country, for example if you went somewhere where your company’s signal is not available but somebody else’s is, and you used that to navigate, text or call. However, the vast majority of roaming fees are incurred by travelers in a foreign country. Especially in these cases, the costs associated with roaming are usually to the company’s discretion and can be astronomical for the unsuspecting visitor.

Whether or not European citizens should be charged roaming fees when switching operators during travels across the EU has been on top of the agenda of the European Commission for a while now. The works started as early as 2005: at the time, you could be charged as much as 12 euros for a 4 minute call! As of 2013, the European Commission started drafting a proposal to make roaming a single market within the European Union and ultimately abolish roaming fees. The proposal was approved by the European Parliament in April 2014, but only authorized by the Council of the European Union in January 2017 because of internal disagreements on the price caps. As of June 15, the legislation has finally come into effect, and any European citizen with a domestic provider may now “roam like at home”, or in other words use foreign mobile networks at the same price of the domestic provider.

As a result, you can now surf, call and text regardless of where you are in the EU for the same costs as you would at home. But do keep in mind that this only works as long as you remain within the cap set by your provider’s package. For example, if you have a package that allows you x minutes of calls, y texts and z MB per month, this will usually mean that calls and texts should be directed towards users in your own country. If you are abroad, you can freely text and call home, your friends and your significant other for no additional costs; however, if you contact a foreign phone, you may still be charged international fees, unless your mobile plan allows international services. In addition, the price for data has not reached its minimum yet, but is expected to decrease yearly until 2022.

The European Commission has set the following caps, for calls, text and data traffic:

  • €0.032 per min of voice call, as of 15 June 2017
  • €0.01 per SMS, as of 15 June 2017
  • A step by step reduction over 5 years for data caps decreasing from €7.7/GB (on 15 June 2017) to €6/GB (01/01/2018), €4.5/GB (01/01/2019), €3.5/GB (01/01/2020), €3/GB (01/01/2021) and €2.5/GB (01/01/2022)

Something that attracted quite a bit of attention about this legislation is a so-called “fair use” policy, which was thought as a means of preventing users from fleeing en masse towards extremely cheap providers in countries where costs are kept artificially low (such as the Eastern block for example) and then roam all over the rest of the EU for those prices. This means that the roaming traffic of each user will be constantly monitored by the competent authorities in order to verify whether the user significantly uses roaming more than domestic traffic and whether the user significantly lives in other countries longer than in the domestic provider’s. Should those circumstances occur, then the provider may interrupt the service freely. This ignited quite a lot of complaints from the community of consumers who are concerned with privacy issues. Is it ethical to monitor one’s data consumption?

Wherever the truth may lie, the end of roaming fees ushers a new age of interconnectedness and unity within the EU. The first thing this year that brought us closer, and not further apart.