On 27 October, at a plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament gave its final approval for the Single Telecoms Market regulation. The originally over-ambitious draft tabled by the Commission was reduced to roaming and net neutrality. Negotiators for the EP, the Council and the Commission reached an informal agreement in June. At that time, the Parliament had already adopted its first reading position – which was more ambitious than what the Council was willing to concede to. The informal deal was then introduced into Council´s position at first reading – which happened several weeks ago. Last week, the Parliament initiated the second reading, where 3 options were on the table. The MEPs could have voted the proposal sent from the Council down – this would mean the end of the regulation. Also, the EP could have amended the text sent from the Council. This was on the table until the very end – several left-leaning MEPs tabled amendments which received some support. But in the end, none was adopted. So the third option prevailed – approving the Council´s text (at this instance, this text was informally pre-approved also by the EP negotiators). This in effect ended the legislative procedure. Once the regulation is signed by the Presidency of the Council and by the President of the EP, it will come into force. As a result, there will be no roaming surcharges in the EU as of 15 June 2017. Starting from April 2016, there will only be minimum surcharges added to domestic rates for intra-EU roaming (5 cents per minute of outgoing call, 2 cents per outgoing SMS and 5 cents per MB of data traffic; the price of incoming calls will be determined later).
Some experts worry that the end of roaming is still not definitive. Several authorities, including the EC, need to issue implementing acts that would enable it in practice. For example, the maximum surcharge for incoming calls to be applied from May 2016 or the fair-use measures intended to avoid “permanent roaming” to be applied from June 2017 – these are only two crucial measures that need to be introduced. However, too much political capital was invested in the process for it to be halted by a technical question at this stage.
The regulation also ensures that Europe will be the first continent to have binding net neutrality rules. Once the regulation comes into force formally, internet providers will not be allowed to limit consumers´ access to any online service (this does not, of course, preclude actions based on court orders). Providers have, however, ensured the option to introduce even better access (higher speed) to specific services – but only if such practices are not to the detriment of the overall network quality.
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