The elimination of roaming fees for using mobile phones in other EU countries could be delayed in what would be a win for big European telecoms operators at the expense of consumers, according to a draft EU proposal.
Outgoing EU telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes had made ending such charges for people using their phones across borders inside the bloc a banner element in a package to overhaul the ailing telecoms sector and in April EU lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to abolish roaming fees by 2016.
But a new draft of the text from Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the 28-nation European Council makes no mention of the date proposed by parliament - Dec. 15, 2015.
Though the draft is likely to be further revised, it suggests only a "glidepath", or gradual reduction in roaming fees towards the goal of "roam like at home" (RLAH) - a time where someone using, say, a British mobile phone in Italy will pay the same charges as if they were still in Britain.
"The legislative date for the initial introduction of RLAH, subject to transitional measures and fair use limits, needs to be defined and is a significant political question," the draft document states.
Charges for roaming have been repeatedly cut by the European Commission, the EU's executive, since 2007. Industry sources say ending roaming charges is not in doubt, it is just the timing. Removing a source of revenue prematurely would hinder operators' ability to invest in faster networks, they say.
Kroes's reform of Europe's telecoms sector is aimed at increasing its competitiveness with the United States and Asia and spurring the continent's big operators like France's Orange and Britain's Vodafone to invest in faster networks.
The Italian proposal will be discussed by national experts in Brussels on Thursday and is likely to undergo changes, said EU officials.