E.U. May Ban All Mobile Phone Roaming Fees

More details have emerged on plans to stop European cell phone firms ripping off consumers with roaming charges, and they may change the industry.

We'd heard rumors that the European government was seeking a way to ban roaming fees across the region, but new details have emerged on the laws that the E.U. is planning to reveal in draft next week and they're impressive. The E.U. seems likely to ban cell phone networks from charging more to use a cell phone's voice and data services when overseas than when at home. The Guardian, reporting on the leaked laws, suggests that there will be little choice for the region's cell phone operators but to offer single-rate tariffs for voice, data, and SMS to their customers.

To make the moves technically feasible, in nations where one particular operator has no network of its own, an airline-style alliance will be created—acting something like a codeshare flight. These alliances will have to cover at least 85% of the region's population across 21 member states. Where operators do not offer flat rate fees by July 2014, they'll have to offer users the choice of temporarily swapping to a local operator when they're overseas automatically, without having to swap SIM cards.

The practical upshot of the law seems to be creating a flat cell phone market for about 628 million people. It won't be regulated by a single Europe-wide body, but some powers could be taken away from each nation's version of the U.S. FCC.

Abolition of roaming fees in the E.U. is being opposed by the region's operators that say they'll lose about €7 billion ($9 billion) thanks to the regulations. But it's arguable that the moves will dramatically change the industry because it would mean there's nothing to stop an Italian cell phone provider offering service to customers in, say, Portugal. Innovation in both cell phone use and third-party services (like mobile payments) would also likely be boosted.

[Image via Flickr user: Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_IN_SEPTEMBER]

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