14 Nov, 2018

A right to the access to the Internet, a reality in 2019

Ethan Arsht

Today, after more than a year of negotiating, the European Parliament adopted a new European Electronic Communication Code and new rules for Telecom regulators, the so called BEREC regulation.

The two new laws will set the way for the launch of 5G and should lead to faster deployment of fibre optic internet lines in Europe. However, the first measure of the more than 500 page law that most consumers will see is potentially lower telephone bills from May 15th 2019.

Thanks to the work of ALDE Party Vice President Dita Charanzová, the new law caps the price of calls between European Union countries at a maximum of 19 eurocents for both mobile and fixed calls (So-called ‘Intra-EU calls’). It also caps SMS at a maximum of 6 eurocents.

The adoption of this Intra-EU calls cap was the next step after the EU abolished roaming costs in 2017, which already capped calls and texts to national rates while roaming in other EU countries.

Asked to comment, Ms Charanzová said: “I am proud of what we have achieved for European consumers. Rates have been unjustly high for too long. We are one Union and there was no logical reason for these costs. I hope this will be the end of bill-shock in Europe and a step towards the end of long distance rates all together.”

Contrary to common beliefs, not everyone has a smartphone and can make internet calls. In many European countries, more than 30 percent of the population is not equipped. Even for those who have one, there is considerable lack of access to 3G and 4G in rural communities in many Member States. The ALDE spokespersons for consumer rights added: “This is why we did not give up on this fight. Less fortunate or connected citizens, as well as people leaving in rural areas, should able to benefit from the single market”.

In addition to Intra-EU calls, under pressure from MEP Charanzová, the new law also includes more long-term and principled measures. Starting from 2020, every European citizen will have a right to an affordable internet connection. The law requires each European country to ensure, through either a voucher or a social tariff, that low income or disadvantage citizens can afford an internet connection.

“Internet must be seen as a utility. Just as we would not deny access to electricity or gas or water, no one should be denied access to the internet just because they are disadvantaged,” said Ms Charanzová.

She underlined that as more and more services, including government services, go online, it is unthinkable to be without internet access today. The law also requires that every EU country must introduce a Mobile Public Warning Systems by 2022. Such systems send alert messages to mobile phones in the case of a terrorist attack or other emergency within a concern area.

This new alert system will save lives and ensure that everyone is informed on how to stay safe in an emergency. “Quick and reliable information is key to safety. In the 21st century, citizens should not have to rely on word of mouth and rumours to know what is happening in the case of an attack or natural disaster. I only regret that we could not get these systems into place sooner,” added Charanzová, underlining that Member States remain of course free to act quicker than what is foreseen in the European law.

The Parliament also achieved many other measures for consumers, from compensation if something goes wrong when switching providers, to greater protections for persons with disabilities. Member States now have two years to implement most other measures.


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