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Europe's free roaming law comes with an asterisk

Engadget Engadget 6/09/2016 Matt Brian
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In June 2017, the European Commission will get its wish and scrap roaming charges for travellers across the continent. Phone calls, text messages and data downloads abroad will be treated as if they originated at home, but there will be a catch. In new plans set out this week, the Commission will instruct operators to let consumers roam for in Europe up to 30 days at a time, for a total of 90 days per year.

To stop abuse, representatives had called for a fair use policy to stop travellers from buying cheap SIM deals in one European country and then abusing those benefits in another. The new plans are a first look at how the Commission intends to deal with that issue. They appear to lean on existing free movement agreements made by Member States that require some citizens to register their residency if they stay for a period of more than 90 days in a year. It's determining whether a person can a considered a traveller or a (semi-permenant) resident -- the latter of which would possibly need to buy a local mobile SIM.

Since April 2016, operators have capped roaming charges at €0.20 per MB, €0.06 per SMS and €0.05 per minute. The new plans will lower call and text message prices to €0.04 cents per minute and €0.01 per SMS, but data usage may rise to 0.85 cents per MB. To help people who regularly travel between countries for work, the Commission says that as long as they log onto their home network once a day, they will not be included in the 30-day and 90-day limits.

This is not to say that carriers cannot be more lenient with their roaming restrictions. These limits are effectively a basic right for all Europeans, and you can expect to see operators continue to differentiate themselves by offering better deals.

Representatives will now invite member countries and the EU's telecoms regulator to comment on proposals before they're adopted on December 15th. Overall, it looks like consumers who enjoy "unlimited" data plans at home will be offered the same opportunities abroad, as long as they don't exceed average their carrier's domestic usage limits.

Europa

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