EU to end roaming charges in 2017 and adopt new rules on online net neutrality
Mobile roaming charges are set to be scrapped within the European Union from June 2017.
Under the new rules, mobile phone users will pay the same price to make calls, send text messages and use data wherever they are in the EU, meaning calling friends or family while travelling will make no difference to bills from June 15, 2017, the European Commission announced.
European negotiators have also reached an agreement on so-called net neutrality rules, which will see internet providers banned from blocking or slowing down access to particular content, services or applications.
Andrus Ansip, the European Commission's vice-president for the Digital Single Market, said: "Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us to create a Digital Single Market. Our plans to make it happen were fully endorsed by heads of state and government last week, and we should move faster than ever on this."
Gunther H Oettinger, commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: "I welcome today's crucial agreement to finally end roaming charges and establish pragmatic net neutrality rules throughout the EU.
"Both are essential for consumers and businesses in today's European digital economy and society.
"We will build on these important foundations in our forthcoming review of the EU's telecoms legislation."
The EC said a series of technical conditions need to be fulfilled in order to abolish roaming charges, but it is "fully committed to implementing those conditions and making sure that the end of roaming charges is operational as of day one".
Roaming charges will become cheaper from April next year, when operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices of up to 0.05 euro (3p) per minute of call made, 0.02 euro (1p) per SMS sent, and 0.05 euro (3p) per MB of data, excluding VAT.
Under the new net neutrality rules, users across the EU will be free to access the content of their choice and will no longer be unfairly blocked or slowed down.
This means access to a start-up's website will not be unfairly slowed down to make way for bigger companies, the EC said.
No service will be hampered because it does not pay an additional fee to internet service providers.
All internet traffic will be treated equally, subject to strict and clearly identified public-interest exceptions such as network security or combating child pornography.
Following today's agreement, the rules will have to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council.
Conservative MEP Vicky Ford said: " We finally have a date for the complete abolition of mobile roaming charges.
"From next summer people travelling in Europe will see a significant cut on their roaming charges, and from 2017 they will be abolished altogether, enabling people to use their apps, make calls and send a text just as if they were at home.
"On net neutrality it is important that the internet remains open and neutral, and we now have rules in place on how traffic is managed to ensure that there is no anti-competitive behaviour.
"Making sure children can use the internet safely is vital. It was therefore crucial that parental controls such as those used in the UK can continue.
"Last-minute changes to the agreement will not exempt parental controls and spam blockers from the law, but after very close liaison with ministers back in the UK we have negotiated a position that should allow the British Government to pass its own law to maintain parental controls. There will be a transition period to allow this to be put in place and we will be scrutinising the detail to make sure the UK can continue to have parental controls.
"This law was aimed at improving the rights of consumers and giving telecoms operators clarity on the rules going forward. In many areas we have achieved our goals, but some of the last-minute fudges in the legislation have left some question marks hanging over how this will be implemented."
Ernest Doku, telecoms spokesman at uSwitch.com, said: " We've heard this before. Data roaming charges were due to be abolished in the EU at the end of 2015 and the U-turn confused and frustrated people.
"Mid-2017 is a long way off, particularly when a fifth of UK holidaymakers have returned home from an EU trip in the past year to find their bill was, on average, £61 higher than usual - amounting to £573 million collectively. Of these, around one in six had to pay upwards of £100 on top of their normal bill.
"Let's hope there'll be no more backtracking after Europe's mobile networks have had their say."
Prime Minister David Cameron said the deal would deliver major benefits for consumers in the UK and across the EU.
He said: " This deal is fantastic news for British consumers and shows that the UK, working with its partners, can deliver real change in Europe, bringing significant benefits for working people.
"It also shows that the EU can show the flexibility and creativity to deliver changes that benefit people in this country and across Europe."