Following last June’s much-lauded European Union decision to effectively do away with roaming charges on mobile phones – a process started ten years ago by noneother than our own Prime Minister, then an MEP – it was with great satisfaction earlier this month that I welcomed the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) vote in favour of lower charges on international phone calls and text messages as part of a draft telecoms bill.
It was especially significant to me personally in my role as the S&D shadow rapporteur on the bill representing consumers and the internal market. It followed months of challenging negotiations aimed at gradually completing the telecoms package to the benefit of the millions of European consumers and subscribersas a result of this agreement whereby charges for calls and text messages from one EU country to another should, hopefuly in the near future, be “significantly lowered down and equalised to national calls.”
There should be no doubt international rates are still shockingly high for most consumers, with people being overcharged when calling or texting “foreign” numbers. IMCO’s agreement will expectantly pave the way for the next big step towards creating a single telecoms market for European consumers. The time to have lower international call and text charges is indeed nigh.
If roaming was a great political victory that convinced millions of European citizens the Union is well on its course to better times after the years of austerity and economic decline, this new initiative should confirm the innovative spirit that highlights Europe’s re-discovered direction. It also reflects the more buoyant political situation following the people’s vote, in several countries, against the dark forces of extremism and populism.
Bridging the gap between national and international rates for calls and text messages was a daring first step into the political fold for IMCO. It now heralds another series of purposeful negotiations with member states in the hope of finally making the telecoms package complete. Coming so soon after the success at abolishing roaming charges it would be yet another achievement in this most important sector of the European economy. Millions of European citizens would be the obvious beneficiaries – certainly a far cry from the times when, for too long, they had been expected to carry the burden of economic under-performance. The European Parliament’s support to this S&D initiative is what is needed now that the first such positive, albeit early, indicators have been acknowledged in most EU economies.
Cheaper international rates for calls and text messages, though, are not the only benefit. The approved telecoms bill being proposed also includes important provisions aimed at strengthening consumer rights in the sector, improving conditions for people with disabilities, providing basic and affordable internet as a universal right to all, and refining the existing emergency numbers 112 and 116 on missing children.
Another ground-breaking part of IMCO’s telecoms bill approval is the call for the creation of a compulsory public warning system in each of the EU member states. The system will provide for all member states to supply direct information to a large community of people within a danger zone – due to a terrorist attack or a natural calamity – through the 112 emergency services number. This means that member states would have the whole mobile phone facility through which to inform their citizens of what would be happening in their area and what would need to be done so that people’s safety and security are assured.
At this moment in time Europe needs this particular sense of purpose that automatically triggers a most effective electronic shield to protect its citizens. Rather than expecting individual organisations within individual countries to tackle undue situations in their own way within their own territory, this initiative provides for a pan-European network that would certainly go a long way towards streamlining operations of continental proportions.
It means that while the European citizen stands to benefit from better and more reasonable rates, the new telecoms bill caters for the taking of major steps towards the formation of a mobile phone network that puts Europe at the forefront of the next generation of both personal and public communication systems. It was certainly satisfying for me, as one of the negotiators on the Telecom Package, to bring the roaming charges saga to a successful end, I now look forward to taking this further to give the citizens a complete package in every sense of the word.
The Malta Independent 29-09-17