EU agrees price cap on cross border calls

A victory for consumers or a populist stunt?

Brussels (AFP) – The European Union agreed to cap prices on intra-EU phone calls on Wednesday in a move hailed by MEPs as a victory for Brussels but dismissed as a populist stunt by critics.

The decision comes a year after the “free roaming” revolution, in which Europeans calling, texting or using the internet when travelling in other EU nations are charged the same amount they would be at home. 

In the latest measure, mobile or fixed-line phone calls from an EU home country to another bloc member will now be capped at 19 euro cents ($0.22) per minute and six cents per text message.

“We agree that companies cannot charge excessive fees to users when they call or send an SMS from their home country via mobiles or landlines to another EU Member State,” said MEP Pilar del Castillo, who negotiated on behalf of the European Parliament.

The cap came after 12 hours of talks between the EU Bulgarian Presidency, the European Commission and the European Parliament and will now need signing off by the bloc’s 28 member states.

But the limit, which was part of a wide-ranging telecoms package, comes as an increasing share of inter-EU communication takes place via mobile apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage or Skype.

European telecom firms said the deal was a “political smokescreen” for the EU’s failure to agree on far more critical measures that would facilitate much-needed investment for 5G and other high tech innovations.

“The main aim of the original proposal by the European Commission was to significantly improve the investment climate for rolling out new networks and to empower users of all communication services,” the telecoms lobbying group ETNO said in a statement.

This “once in a decade … opportunity has been missed,” it said.