Last week, the EU took a major step forward to improve the lives of millions of Europeans. After many years of tortuous negotiations, an agreement was reached to end roaming charges – the extra amount you have to pay to use mobile devices in another EU country – and to protect the right of people to access the open internet

In just under two years' time, roaming charges will have faded into a distant memory.

From mid-June 2017, you will pay the same price to use a mobile phone while travelling in the EU as you do at home. This makes sense in a #DigitalSingleMarket (DSM).

Although we announced the good news last week (here is the press release, and the Q&A that were issued), it has taken a little more time to polish some technical details in the final text, which is published today.

This is the culmination of a decade of hard work by previous Commission Vice-Presidents Viviane Reding and Neelie Kroes to bring down roaming charges in the EU. Since we took action in 2007, prices for roaming calls, SMS and data have fallen by more than 80%.

Today, data roaming is now up to 91% cheaper than it was then.

This is not only about people saving money. It is also about removing barriers in Europe that prevent us from making our single market truly digital.

I said on several occasions that EU countries needed to be more ambitious on roaming charges so that we get rid of them completely – and the sooner the better, because people have been demanding this for a very long time.

Fortunately, they will not have to wait too long to feel the results of this breakthrough.

Starting in April 2016, roaming will get cheaper and operators will only be allowed to add on a small amount to domestic prices: up to €0.05 per minute of call made, €0.02 per SMS sent, and €0.05 per MB of data (excluding VAT). This maximum roaming charge is about 75% cheaper than the roaming caps that now apply to data and calls that people make and pay for.

While the end of roaming is probably the most visible part of the agreement, its other element is just as important, perhaps even more: guaranteed access to the open internet.

For the first time, the principle of net neutrality will be set in EU law.

This is vital for online users and businesses. It makes sure that Europeans have access to the online content and services they want, without any discrimination or interference - like blocking or slowing down - by internet access providers. Many people have complained about these practices, particularly with video streaming and internet telephony.

Until now, there have been no clear EU-wide rules on net neutrality, which leaves most people with no legal protection of their right to access the open internet.

Some EU countries have national laws on net neutrality. Others do not.

If there are no rules, we are left with a messy situation where 'anything goes'. Different national rules cause the DSM to become splintered, which is why it is so important that we now have now a common set of rules in the EU.

They will protect Europeans and guarantee a high-quality internet for everybody.

They protect the right of every European to access the content of their choice.

They cannot be blocked or slowed down. Internet service providers cannot act as gatekeepers to decide what people can, or cannot, access. Equal treatment and non-discrimination of traffic will be set in law.

National regulators will have the power to act against service providers if necessary. If you find that the speed of your internet connection is not as the provider promised, you will be able to terminate your contract more easily.

The EU's new rules will also prevent unfair and uncompetitive practices. Paid prioritisation will be banned, which means that a startup's website cannot be slowed down to make way for a larger company prepared to pay extra to get such an advantage.

They also address specialised services that need a higher transmission quality than that guaranteed for everyone. Take a healthcare service like telesurgery, which has to be extremely fast and precise to work properly and safely.

National regulators will allow these specialised and innovative services under strict conditions: above all, they should not harm the quality of the open internet (there should be enough capacity) and higher quality should be necessary for them.

This long-awaited agreement on roaming and net neutrality is a significant first step in our strategy to build a Digital Single Market.

It will give people and business more benefits and protection in the digital world, as well as removing unwanted and unnecessary barriers.

Of course, there is more work to do in this area. We still need to address the vital issue of spectrum coordination in the EU, for example. This is the oxygen for the internet, the basis for a digitally enabled society. The more divided it is, the less efficient.

We are now firmly underway, and as I wrote in my June 26 blog, there is a great deal to look forward to for the rest of the year. These are just the first steps in a long process to help Europeans make the most of digital opportunities – and to make the EU work for its people.

Another blog soon.



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