The group of 27 European Commissioners voted in Brussels on Tuesday to drive the package through in time for the European elections in May next year, to come into force as soon as 1 July 2014.
“They agreed that this time next year we will have got rid of these charges,” a Brussels source said Officials will draw up and publish detailed proposals in the next six weeks.
They expect the death of roaming charges to typically wipe 2pc off mobile operators’ revenues, after several years of tightening regulations designed to put an end to shockingly high bills for holiday makers and business travellers. They argue that operators will gain in the longer term by customers using their mobiles more abroad, particularly to access the internet.
The reforms are designed to encourage radical consolidation of European mobile network operators. A source familiar with the plans said the European Commission believes there are far too many companies offering services across the 27 member states and that the fragmentation is a barrier to badly-needed investment. Without upgrades, mobile networks will buckle under the pressure of the rapid growth in internet traffic, it is feared.
“There are around 100 operators in Europe and only four in the US,” the source said. “That’s not sustainable if we’re going to have a single market and investment. Europe has less 4G mobile broadband than Africa at the moment.”
“Consolidation is not the aim. The aim is a single market, but if it means we get fewer, stronger operators, that’s good.”
With no roaming fees, officials believe the single market will mean foreign operators will be able to compete for British customers, and vice-versa. They are likely to form airline-style alliances that will lead to mergers, it is hoped.