The EU single market holds many advantages. To be able to travel, work or purchase goods effortlessly across numerous different countries creates all kinds of opportunities for consumers. But there are still areas where it is not working or has simply not been accomplished, even if it would be the most logical and appropriate thing to do.
International intra-EU calls are one of them. It is often still prohibitively expensive to call someone who lives in a different EU country.
Since the end of roaming charges in 2017, which used to apply when you travelled to another country and called somebody back home, consumers have enjoyed their phones without the risk of a bill shock on a trip inside the EU. But they are confused that, today, calling their friends and family in another country from the comfort of their own home can cost up to €0.19 per minute on top of what they pay for their phone subscription.
Caps in place
At least since 2019, there have been EU price caps on what telecom operators can apply as a surcharge for this call. EU decision-makers then placed limits rather than remove the surcharges altogether to review the caps by 2024.
But that review has not taken place. The price caps will lapse in May this year if no action is taken, threatening to dramatically increase the prices consumers pay for a call to another country.
This could mean consumers end up with less usable alternatives like online messaging apps, with all the data protection and privacy risks they can sometimes entail, or simply stop calling another EU country.
How can we face this situation today, six years after roaming ended?
Good for telecoms, bad for everyone else
Consumers and companies who do business across borders are losing out daily by paying higher prices, while telecom companies pay the difference for their shareholders.
This is despite telecom companies admitting that costs for such calls are decreasing yearly as better, more efficient infrastructure gets rolled out.
Companies like Telefonica or Deutsche Telekom have argued passionately over 2023 for the need to loosen EU competition rules so that they can consolidate across borders because we live in a European single market. But strangely, they do not want to let consumers benefit from a market without borders. It is time for the single market to work for consumers, not just telecom companies.
Intra-EU call surcharges are a gift from a bygone era to a sector asking for all kinds of advantages today. The surcharges should be banned, just as they were for roaming.
The Gigabit Infrastructure Act and its expected final round of negotiations on Monday, 5 February, is the last chance not only to ‘save the caps’ and continue the status quo, as many want but also the opportunity for the EU to go one step further and finally ban the surcharges altogether.
Oddly enough, Dutch telecom providers don’t charge to call another EU country, so for Dutch people, it will be a surprise that other countries telecom providers do charge
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