After lengthy negotiations, the European Parliament and the Czech EU Presidency reached an agreement over the EU's new roaming regulation, which aims to lower consumer prices and further develop the market for cross-border telecoms services.
According to the text of the final agreement, mobile phone calls passed from one EU country to another will be capped at €43 cents per minute from July 2009, down from the current limit of €46 cents. This cap should be further decreased to €39 cents from July 2010, and to €35 cents from July 2011. All prices exclude VAT.
The compromise stems from an initial European Commission proposal to limit roaming calls to €34 cents per minute by 2012. During the first vote in Parliament at the beginning of March, MEPs proposed a cap of €40 cents per minute, to be applied from July 2010 to mid-2012.
Mobile users will also benefit from lower charges for phone calls received while abroad. These fees will be capped from the current €22 cents per minute to €11 cents per minute from July 2011 (VAT excluded). Moreover, a new cap has been introduced for roamed text messages, which should cost a maximum of €11 cents (VAT excluded) from July 2009.
Operators are of course allowed to offer much lower prices than the maximum charges identified by the EU, although this was seldom the case under the first roaming regulation.
No more bill shocks
More good news for consumers came with an agreement on a new system to prevent so-called 'bill shocks' for data roaming, which frequently hit mobile Internet users when abroad. The new regulation sets a €50 limit for data roaming per month (excluding VAT). Once a customer reaches 80% of this amount, the mobile operator will send a warning message, giving details of a procedure to continue data roaming. Should the user fail to respond, the operator must automatically cut the service once the cap is reached.
Negotiators rejected suggestions from the Parliament to consider a specific volume of data as a limit for data roaming, which MEPs proposed capping at 20 megabytes per month. "This would have discouraged companies from offering lower tariffs for mobile Web traffic," a Commission official explained.
Compromise on billing system
The Parliament also had to give up its proposal to apply per-second tariffs as of the first second of a roamed phone conversation. Currently, most operators impose per-minute tariffs for roamed calls, a practice which ends up billing customers for 24% more time than they actually spend on the phone, according to the European telecom regulators group (ERG). "It's like taking the train from Brussels to Paris and being charged to go to Rome," explained Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva.
The compromise will allow operators to impose an initial charging period of 30 seconds, after which the per-second system will be applied. This means that if an operator wants to exploit this advantage, a roamed phone call lasting 15, three or 27 seconds will always be charged as though it had lasted 30 seconds.