EU to abolish roaming costs, streamline telecoms

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is seeking to abolish mobile phone roaming charges across the 28-nation zone while streamlining its telecoms sector and boosting investment in new high-speed networks.

The head of the bloc’s executive arm, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said Wednesday that overhauling the sector “is essential for Europe’s strategic interests and economic progress.”

The proposed legislation would mean that customers will no longer have to pay for incoming calls when traveling in other EU countries starting in July 2014 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 still must be approved by the European Parliament and the governments of the EU member states.

The changes aim to fix the bloc’s fragmented telecoms market, cut red tape and encourage investment in new high-speed networks to boost growth.

Europe currently has hundreds of mobile and fixed telephony operators across a patchwork of 28 countries. It also lags behind parts of the U.S., Asia and Africa in rolling out new mobile technologies such as fourth-generation service, or 4G.

“Lagos has 4G mobile, but Brussels does not,” the Commission noted.

The EU’s Commissioner in charge of the legislation, Neelie Kroes, said the goal is for people to enjoy the same phone 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,” she insisted.

She also rebuffed worries that network operators will seek to claw back their roaming losses by increasing domestic calling prices, saying the sector’s fierce competition will keep prices low. The new legislation should also give consumers a wider choice of phone 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 telecoms market could add about 1 percent, or more than 100 billion euros ($132 billion), to the region’s gross domestic product.

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