After almost two years of negotiations, on Tuesday the European Union agreed to end mobile roaming charges by 2017 and allow travelers in all 28 nations of the European Union to pay the same price for phone calls, text messages, and data.
A guarantee of “net neutrality” was also included in the deal, meaning that Internet users within EU territory will be able to access digital content without being unfairly slowed down or blocked.
Top EU digital affairs official Guenther Oettinger welcomed the deal, known as Connected Continent, and announced that it was"essential for consumers and businesses."
Disagreements during the negotiations leading up to the deal centered around the net neutrality rules, with the European Council preferring that telecoms companies be given more freedom to manage traffic, Politico reported. The European Parliament, meanwhile, fought for an absolute guarantee that traffic would be treated equally.
“It is important that the Internet remains open and neutral, and we now have rules in place on how traffic is managed, to ensure that there is no anti-competitive behavior,” Vicky Ford, a British conservative member of parliament, told the Wall Street Journal.
But some critics have argued that the law still leaves room for discrimination.
Paul Zarandy, an analyst at Rewheel, a Finnish management consultancy that specializes in mobile Internet access, told the Journal that the deal provides net neutrality “in name only.”
Some restrictions could also be enforced through the “fair use policy,” through which telecoms operators will be permitted to prevent roaming abuses such as when person who lives in one country registers their mobile phone in another where the mobile plan is less expensive.
The Commission says it now has a mandate to define limits under the fair use clause, according to the Journal.
Roaming charges are now set to be eliminated by June 2017, and a transition phase will begin next April. Net neutrality rules are set to be enforced in 2016.
The deal still needs to be rubber-stamped by EU nations and the full parliament before it enters into law.