EU states, lawmakers agree to cap price of intra-EU calls

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments and lawmakers have agreed to cap the price of calling from one EU country to another, seeking to score another political victory with citizens after the elimination of mobile roaming surcharges.

The deal clinched in the early hours of Wednesday after 12 hours of negotiations is part of a wider overhaul of the bloc’s 15-year-old telecoms laws to encourage operators to invest in fiber broadband networks and open up radio frequencies for next-generation 5G services.

But in a twist on the original proposal the European Parliament pushed for the prices of international calls within the EU to be capped, arguing that they were often disproportionately high.

Under the provisional deal, calls from one EU state to another will be capped at 19 euro cents per minute while text messages will cost no more than 6 euro cents each.

“No more overly expensive calls and SMS!! Today we decided to put a cap on prices if you call or text another EU-country from your home. Good step forward,” tweeted Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, one of the lawmakers involved in negotiating the deal.

The EU feted the abolition of mobile roaming charges last year with champagne and fireworks, eager to trumpet a policy that would show its benefits for the bloc’s 500 million citizens.

But many mobile operators, the European Commission and member states saw the capping of international calls as an unnecessary populist measure as consumers can choose to call abroad with services such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp which are free.

According to figures from the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, the cost of calling other EU countries currently varies from 5 cents a minute to 80 cents a minute.

“Excessive surcharges for phone calls from a consumer’s home country into another EU Member State is far from what people expect in a single market,” said Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC.

The agreement also includes measures allowing incumbent telecoms operators like Deutsche Telekom and Orange to be deregulated if they co-invest in new broadband networks with rivals.

Wireless spectrum licenses will be awarded for at least 20 years under the new law, down from the 25 originally proposed, disappointing the industry.

“The law fails to help telcos speed up 5G and fiber deployment, which puts pressure on national authorities to ensure a pro-investment application of the new rules,” said Phillip Malloch, chairman of telecoms lobbying group ETNO.

The deal has to be endorsed by both member states and the parliament before becoming law.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Sandra Maler