Travel Tech

In an era in which the Internet continues to evolve rapidly, European regulators have recently moved to make changes to the way that the World Wide Web operates. Plans were afoot to ban roaming charges, while the whole concept of net neutrality is frequently debated and is subject to legislation.

Roaming Charges Regression

However, in a surprising move, the European political hierarchy has dropped plans to ban roaming charges, while proposals for net neutrality rules enabling privileged access in a certain number of cases have been floated. According to the legislation, there will be an “intermediate step” which will allow carriers to charge more money for the usage of mobile phones in foreign locations.

In terms of the issue of net neutrality, this will effectively bar any form of discrimination in Internet access. It will also allow some prioritisation of services in certain circumstances. Observers of the legislative process have opined that the new proposals are significantly different from those which were first floated back in 2013.

At that time, it was promised that data roaming charges would be ended completely, but the European legislation in fact proposes the complete opposite. The Council of the European Union has recommended that operators be allowed to add surcharges to their domestic rates, which will be seen by many as a huge backward step in roaming rates. According to the preliminary documents, the proposals made are transitional, and wholesale costs incurred by mobile operators still need to be taken into consideration.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for those that believe roaming charges should be ended completely. Analysts overlooking the current legislation suggest that although data roaming charges will continue until 2018, there could be respite at that date. The existing law will enable European lawmakers to reconsider in three years time whether to ban roaming charges completely, even if this is something of a disappointment for consumers at this point in time.

Political Opposition

Although there seems to be something of a consensus among the political elite of Europe regarding this plan, not all political participants concur with it. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the fourth largest grouping of MEPs in the European Parliament, has stated explicitly that it will vigorously fight the legislation, and still believes that data roaming should cease by the end of 2015. Representatives from the group indicated that the proposed legislation was unambitious and poor for the average man and woman in the street.

Although the raw economics of this legislation may attract the most headlines, the concept of net neutrality is arguably more important. This concept essentially represents the principle of all Internet service providers and governments treating all data on the Internet equally. This is seen as a fundamentally democratising process, and has been an extremely thorny issue considering the recent revelations and debate regarding Internet data privacy.

The European Union proposals suggest that Internet users should be able to get online however they choose to do so, and view any content legally free from service provider discrimination. It is hard to believe that anyone could reasonably oppose these proposals, unless because they had a particular vested interest.

However, it is worth noting that in addition to the basic proposals regarding net neutrality, European legislators also tacked certain provisions onto the law. According to a reading of the documents, the European Union will seek to ensure that specialised services "other than internet access services" can be prioritised if they require high quality internet access to function.

What sort of services would be covered by this particular provision has not been defined as of yet. But analysts have suggested that they could include connecting cars and other elements of the important technology related to the Internet of Things. There are also provisions in the legislation to ensure that service providers must continue to provide a good level of Internet access even if certain services are prioritised.

This is a particularly timely development, as over the last couple of weeks Apple, the world's largest manufacture of consumer electronics, has been linked with a number of rumours related to the production of electric cars. Many analysts believe that Apple is about to produce an electric car, while others suggest that it will be prioritising its CarPlay software in the immediate future with the aim of dominating the motor trade worldwide.

Poor Reception

In general, the proposals have not received a favourable reception. Clearly the continuation of roaming charges is not a good thing for the average consumer, and he European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association stated that it was equally unimpressed by the net neutrality rules.

Overall, the legislation is probably not particularly good news for the tourism industry. As mobile becomes an increasingly important platform for travel-related companies, an end to roaming charges would obviously be beneficial for the provision of services. Instead, this has been delayed for at least three more years, and consumers will unquestionably take these extra charges into consideration when purchasing goods and services while overseas.

Can be said in mitigation is that this situation is unlikely to continue indefinitely. It is already de rigueur for hotels all over the world to offer Wi-Fi access, and often for free, and as more and more people get online via mobile means, this is increasingly a provision of modern society that people take for granted. As Internet access becomes more prevalent in the developing world, it seems a certainty that sooner or later mobile service operators will have two and roaming charges in order to make the services more competitive and panoramically feasible.

So in the short-term, roaming charges are here to stay, but this certainly should be a temporary irritation.

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