holidays-spain-afp-gettyEuropean phone users face strict limits on how much they will be able to use their phones abroad when the EU scraps roaming fees next year, under plans that would give a boost to telecoms operators.

Changes to “fair use” rules being considered by the European Commission would mean that customers with unlimited deals would face extra fees or be cut off once they have used a set amount of data, according to a draft proposal from the commission seen by the Financial Times.

Customers on some cheaper pre-paid deals would also not be able to access the full amount of their data allowance, according to officials.

The potential changes to fair use rules add to the discord surrounding attempts to allow mobile users to use their phones without restriction across the EU, which were hailed by former British prime minister David Cameron as one of the reasons to stay in the bloc.

National capitals are locked in a dispute over how much mobile phone companies can charge each other to roam across networks in different countries, with lobbying in particular from operators based in popular holiday destinations in southern Europe.

Some countries argue that telecoms operators should be able to charge €10 per gigabyte of data used on their network. Other countries, along with the European Parliament, suggest a lower fee of €4 per gigabyte.

Under the higher figure, a customer paying €20 per month for an unlimited data package would be able to use only 2 gigabytes abroad, for example, while the lower figure would allow 5 gigabytes, according to a separate draft plan being discussed.

Companies such as Spain’s Telefónica and Telecom Italia, which face an influx of tourists from northern Europe crowding their networks every summer, want to be able to charge other phone operators more.

“The bigger and the more southern you are, the more angry you are,”

said an industry executive. Until the EU started the process of banning the fees, roaming accounted for roughly 5 per cent of telecoms operator revenues.

Ministers from the EU’s 28 members will meet to agree a position on the new fees this week. A number of northern countries, such as Denmark, are unhappy with the proposals and argue that the fees should be lower.

Prices for mobile phone data vary massively across the EU, with customers in Finland paying 100 times less than those in Hungary. High usage fees would leave cheaper operators nursing losses when their customers roam abroad.

“There is a real risk that it could lead to higher retail prices domestically and ultimately that roaming services will be removed from many subscription packages,”

said Lars Christian Lilleholt, Danish minister for energy, utilities and climate.

The final figures will be settled at the end of the year, during negotiations between member states and the European Parliament.

An initial plan to allow consumers 90 days of roaming per year, which officials argue would have covered more than 99 per cent of EU citizens, was scrapped after a public backlash, leading the commission to come up with its current compromise.

Source: The Financial Times