The European Union (EU), which prides itself in being a single market that guarantees free movement of goods, services and people, seems anything but a single market when it comes to telecommunications.
Despite the various roaming regulations passed by the EU since 2007, Europeans today still face the risk of incurring high bills when using their mobile phone within the EU. ThinkYoung, a Brussels-based think tank lobbying for the presence of young people in European decision-making, has recognised the need to give EU citizens a voice on this issue.
Its survey “Goodbye Roaming Charges?” aims to determine the European youth’s perceptions on roaming fees and net neutrality. The survey closes on 8th November 2013 and the results are expected to come out in December 2013.
In general, the European Commission’s (EC) proposal to create a single market for electronic communications seems to be a step in the right direction as it attempts to completely remove roaming charges by 2016.
Despite the resistance of telecoms regulators the EC’s plans regarding roaming fees are likely to materialise. T-Mobile’s direct foray into eliminating fees for data and text messages in more than 100 countries indicates that roaming surcharges might be a thing of the past sooner than expected.
And rightfully so, for the costs of accessing foreign networks for operators do not justify the current roaming fees that we pay. The EC suggests that these so-called mobile termination rates should be between 1.5 and 3 euro cents per minute which would more accurately reflect the actual costs of wholesale access to networks.
Apart from proposing increased consumer rights, especially in terms of contract transparency, the EC’s draft legislation also touches on the widely debated issue of net neutrality. But what does net neutrality actually mean?
Essentially, it describes the principle that everybody should have the right to access Internet content and use applications without discriminatory interference by network providers.
That means no more blocking or throttling of online services and applications.
For many network providers certain VoIP and P2P services, such as Skype or WhatsApp, directly compete with their existing business models and are therefore restricted in terms of access or speed. In 2012 the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) reported that 41 out of 115 operators on mobile networks restrict P2P and 28 restrict VoIP services.
The other side of the coin cited by network operators relates to the limitations they face when dealing with traffic management.
Naturally we are consuming more and more data and using increasingly “bandwidth-hungry” services which put strains on the capacity limits of the networks and lead to congestions. Therefore, it is understandable that network providers might occasionally have to prioritise certain real-time services, yet it does not justify any discriminatory practices.
Instead, the threat of congestion should be seen as an incentive for network providers to invest into improving networks and widening their capacity. In this regard, the Member States of the EU have a responsibility to make more radio spectrum available for high speed wireless broadband and manage it more effectively.
For European consumers to be able to enjoy similar ultra-fast mobile internet connections as do their counterparts in the United States, South Korea or Japan, there needs to be a fundamental reform of the varying spectrum allocation processes in the EU.
The current arbitrariness in the auctions of spectrum licences is unsustainable if Europe wants to catch up, especially in terms of 4G.