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EU agrees to eliminate roaming charges but net neutrality rules disappoint

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The European Union reached an agreement today that will end roaming charges for people travelling within its 28 member countries as of June 2017. The new agreement, brought into effect after months of deliberation, also introduces the EU's first net neutrality rules. As part of the agreement, companies across the EU are not allowed to block or throttle online content, applications, or services — rules that the Union says will ensure every European has access to the open internet, and that all traffic is treated fairly.

The EU's parliament had originally pushed for the ban on roaming charges to come into effect in 2016, but the union's member countries wanted a later implementation. In the end the two sides compromised, with the June 2017 deal hammered out under Latvia's EU council presidency, shortly before the country hands control to Luxembourg in July. The agreement means that EU citizens using their phone in another member country will only have to pay the same rate for calls, text messages, and data usage as they would back home.

EU citizens in another member country will pay the same for data as at home

The elimination of roaming charges is a natural progression for the EU, in which the prices operators can charge have been slowly dropping since rules were applied in 2007. Prior to the new agreement kicking in, charges will drop once again — in April 2016, operators will only be able to charge an extra €0.05 ($0.06) per minute of call made, €0.02 ($0.02) per text message sent, and €0.05 per MB of data, excluding tax.

But while the EU's council, commission, and parliament were able to reach a definitive decision on roaming charges, the body's new net neutrality rules are less concrete. While the agreement, which comes into effect in April 2016, says that all traffic will be treated equally, it still allows for providers to put aside portions of their networks to "enable the provision of specialized or innovative services," of "a higher quality." The EU denies that it's promoting a two-tier internet service, but compared to more sweeping provisions made by the United States, European citizens have to deal with some caveats to their free and open internet.

The net neutrality rules are less stringent than in the US

EU representatives fought over the provisions of prospective net neutrality rules. The body's council, made up of the heads of the member countries, preferred to allow companies to set their own restrictions, while parliament pushed for a totally open system. The EU says the final agreement is the strongest in the world, but it does not specify exactly what is to be done when a service provider flouts the new rules, stating instead that it will oblige member states to set "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" punishments. While the FCC has already enforced the stringent net neutrality guidelines it introduced earlier this year, the wording of the EU's new agreement could leave room for internet providers to dodge true net neutrality, offering "specialized" and "higher quality" services to the highest bidders.