Brussels: The EU on Wednesday scrapped a controversial plan to limit its landmark free mobile phone roaming policy to 90 days a year, after an outcry from angry consumer groups.
While doing away with time limits for roaming across the currently 28-nation bloc, the European Commission said it will instead impose checks to curb abuse of the system.
"We will not put any kind of limits on duration or, how many days (travellers) can enjoy no roaming surcharges, but we decided to put some clear safeguards on residency," EU Commissioner for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said at a news briefing.
The Commission announced the original "free roaming" plans with huge fanfare in early 2015, but when it unveiled the details earlier this month consumer groups were outraged by the limit.
They had assumed the Commission`s pledge to end mobile roaming charges -- additional costs when people use their phone outside their home country -- meant exactly that, without conditions or caveats.
As a result, they responded angrily to the 90-day "fair use" limit, charging that Brussels had caved in to the powerful telecoms companies for whom roaming charges have long been a lucrative source of extra income.
The new rules, which require approval by the EU`s 28 member states, end roaming "for all people who travel periodically in the EU," said the EU`s Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
But they also ensure "that operators have the tools to guard against abuse of the rules," he added.
Instead of time limits, the new Commission proposal will allow operators to crackdown on people whose phone usage abroad "significantly" outweighs their domestic calls.
It will also allow mobile operators to cancel SIM cards found to be used almost exclusively abroad by customers taking advantage of lower tariffs than those available in their home country.
"If the company has doubts, it notifies the customer who has the right to justify the usage," Oettinger said.
The Commission`s proposal now goes to the EU`s 28 national regulators for negotiation, in order for the plan to be implemented by June 15 next year as originally promised.
At the heart of the row over free roaming in Europe is the huge discrepencies in prices for phone and data usage across the EU, a market of 500 million people.