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EU proposes limits on free roaming for unlimited data packages
December 8, 2016 / 5:14 PM / 8 months ago

EU proposes limits on free roaming for unlimited data packages

* Roaming charges set to end in June 2017

* EU seeking to agree "fair use" policy to prevent abuse

* Customers with unlimited data will face limits abroad

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The European Commission has proposed putting limits on how much consumers with unlimited data packages can surf the web abroad before they have to pay extra once roaming fees are abolished.

The European Union has committed to getting rid of roaming charges within the bloc by June next year but has struggled to find a way of giving consumers a fair deal without putting mobile operators under undue financial pressure.

Fearing that packages offering unlimited data could be prone to abuse, and prompt companies to raise prices at home to recoup the cost of surcharge-free roaming, the Commission said it had proposed an "exceptional brake on intensive roaming".

"Without a volume safeguard on roaming, these competitive packages will be threatened on domestic markets. They could disappear or become more expensive, or be offered without roaming. We do not want that," EU Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip told a news conference on Thursday.

Member states are expected to vote on the new proposal on Monday.

The EU's decade-long drive to abolish roaming charges, often seen by consumers as excessive compared with the additional costs of providing the service, has been hampered by big discrepancies in domestic prices which operators say make entirely free roaming uneconomical.

The quandary has been compounded by the wholesale charges operators pay each other to keep their respective customers connected when abroad.

The EU is now rushing to lower caps on wholesale charges while agreeing a "fair use" roaming policy to prevent abuse, but has been finding it hard to strike the right balance.

Eager to shore up support for the EU amid a wave of populist anti-EU movements, the Commission abruptly withdrew an earlier proposal to let users roam free for up to 90 days a year after it was criticised as being unfair to consumers.

Under the new proposal, the amount of free data roaming for consumers with unlimited or very cheap bundles would be calculated by dividing the price they pay at home by the wholesale cap, and then doubling it.

For example, a Swedish citizen paying 20 euros per month at home for unlimited data, with a wholesale data cap of 10 euros per gigabyte, would get 4 gigabytes free before charges kick in.

A Commission official said most packages in member states such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal would not be affected by the volume limits, given the domestic bundles were less generous.

"It's very, very unlikely that the consumer will go anywhere near that amount of data consumption," the official said. (Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by David Clarke)

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