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EU plans telecoms overhaul by scrapping roaming fees and cutting costs

European officials have proposed sweeping changes to its telecoms policies, in a move intended to help Europe compete in today's digital economy.

The European Commission adopted a plan for reform, which was laid out in a state of the union speech by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. But the changes must be approved by EU member states and the Parliament before anything comes into effect, so specifics are likely to change as the debate evolves.

"Further substantial progress towards a European single market for telecoms is essential for Europe's strategic interests and economic progress," Barroso said in a statement. "For the telecoms sector itself and for citizens who are frustrated that they do not have full and fair access to Internet and mobile services."

Among the proposals most likely to affect consumers are plans to ditch roaming fees. The European Parliament has already put a cap on the amount carriers can charge for roaming, which took effect last year.

Building on that, the commission's plan would ban incoming call charges when travelling in the EU starting on 1 July 2014. Carriers could either offer plans that apply to the entire EU or let customers switch to a provider with lower rates while they travel.

Similarly, the rules would get rid of international call premiums within Europe. Companies would not be able to charge more for a landline call between two people in the EU than they do for a long-distance domestic call.

Meanwhile, the proposal wants to give Europeans greater rights when it comes to dealing with providers: plain-language contracts, making it easier to switch providers, the ability to drop a provider if Internet speeds are not up to snuff, and the right to have email forwarded to a new account if you leave a company.

The EU also made a push for net neutrality. "Blocking and throttling of internet content would be banned, giving users access to the full and open internet regardless of the cost or speed of their internet subscription," the EU said.

On the business side, the EU wants to simplify EU rules for telecom providers, allowing for a single authorisation rather than 28 separate ones. The plan also calls for coordinated spectrum assignment.

The roaming and net neutrality provisions were first proposed earlier this year by Neelie Kroes, the EU's commissioner for digital policy. She championed the new proposal in a blog post this week, pointing to the recent acquisition of Nokia's handset business by Microsoft as one example of the EU losing out on tech.

"Without the right domestic digital environment, even once-strong European players struggle to compete," she wrote. "Current trends are unsustainable for the sector, and unsustainable for our whole economy. The single market boost can revive the European telecoms sector, and help our whole economy: but we must move fast."

For more, check out the EU's in-depth rundown of its proposal.