European Parliament prepares to scrap roaming fees

Europe's plan to end roaming charges for cross-border mobile phone calls cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday, after a committee of the European Parliament voted for the controversial reform.

The raft of measures, which includes the scrapping of unpopular mobile phone roaming charges, was approved by Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee, paving the way for the bill to be adopted at a plenary sitting in April.

The bloc's 28 member states will then have to reach an agreement on the reforms, which would allow customers to use their mobile devices across EU borders without being hit by additional charges for incoming calls.

Under the proposal, mobile phone companies would be required to offer 'roam like at home' packages to cover the whole of the EU or allow customers to subscribe to separate roaming service providers without changing their original SIM card.

The reforms were adopted in September by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, in an attempt to create a single telecoms market and boost competition among largely nationally based mobile phone companies.

The legislation would also establish a one-stop regulator to clear companies to operate in all EU member states, replacing separate national approvals, and cap costs for fixed-line calls from one country to another.

Committee members who supported the bill welcomed the vote, with centre-right Spanish MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera saying the measures would both "eliminate roaming fees for calls, SMSs and data by December 2015."

"(The bill) also puts on the table substantial proposals, for example the effective management of radio spectrum, allowing for the deployment of 4G and 5G technologies," del Castillo Vera said in a statement.

4G operates five times faster than the current 3G network and is seen as the next, essential step in the telecommunications revolution.

The parliamentary committee amended the original bill to bolster its commitment to "net neutrality", so that internet providers would no longer be allowed to block or slow down internet services provided by competitors.

"We have built in further safeguards for internet openness by ensuring that users can run and provide applications and services of their choice," del Castillo Vera said.