The EU is seeking to abolish mobile phone roaming charges across the 28-nation zone, while streamlining its telecommunications sector and boosting investment in new high-speed networks.
The head of the bloc’s executive arm, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said on Wednesday that overhauling the sector “is essential for Europe’s strategic interests and economic progress.”
The proposed legislation would mean that customers would no longer have to pay for incoming calls when traveling in other EU countries starting in July next year and it would end all roaming charges two years later. It also seeks to cap prices of EU-international fixed-line calls at the level of domestic long-distance calls. The plan must still be approved by the European Parliament and the governments of EU member states.
The changes aim to fix the bloc’s fragmented telecommunications market, cut red tape and encourage investment in new high-speed networks.
Europe currently has hundreds of mobile and fixed telecoms across a patchwork of 28 countries. It also lags behind parts of the US, Asia and Africa in rolling out new technologies, such as fourth-generation services, or 4G.
“Lagos has 4G mobile, but Brussels does not,” the commission said.
The EU commissioner in charge of the legislation, Neelie Kroes, said the goal is for people to enjoy the same costs regardless of where they are in Europe.
“EU consumers should not pay more for calling abroad or when they travel abroad in the EU,” Kroes said.
She also rebuffed worries that network operators would seek to claw back their roaming losses by increasing domestic calling prices, saying the sector’s fierce competition would keep prices low. The new legislation should also give consumers a wider choice of telephone and Internet providers, including from other countries.
Europe cannot “afford to miss such a low-hanging fruit to power charge the digital economy of the 21st century,” the commission said.
It claimed a single telecommunications market could add about 1 percent, or more than 100 billion euros (US$132 billion), to the region’s GDP.