EU caps mobile roaming prices, again


Consumers will soon pay less to use their mobile phones abroad as new EU price caps on roaming are due to come into force this week.

The roaming cap, which will affect both calls and Internet downloads, will be introduced on Thursday (1 July) to prevent consumers from getting bill shocks after using their mobile phones while travelling outside the country in which their mobile operator is based.

"There will be no more bill shocks for tourists or business travellers surfing the Internet with smart phones or laptops while in another EU country. The EU is also cutting the cost of roaming calls for travellers. I am determined to make the EU's telecoms markets more competitive," European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said.

The Commission had been waiting for a decision from the European Court of Justice on a complaint made by telecoms firms that roaming caps were overstepping the limits of EU decision-making.

The court decided that the EU's roaming regulation was legally sound, fair for protecting consumers and did not infringe upon the sovereignty of member states, because roaming is a cross-border phenomenon that needs a common response (EURACTIV 09/06/10).

A price ceiling for data roaming will drop from €1 to 80 cents per megabyte (MB) and the maximum price for making a roaming call will be cut to from 43 to 39 cents per minute. The cost of receiving calls will drop from 19 cents to 15 cents, according to the new rules.

According to a statement from the EU executive yesterday, the price for data roaming will drop even further to 50 cents per MB next year.

In addition to these caps, travellers' data roaming bills will be limited to €50, unless the customer has asked for a different figure from their mobile provider.

Operators will also be asked to let customers know when they have reached 80% of their mobile data roaming limit.

Though the EU has clamped down on roaming before, the data roaming cap has been introduced to protect mobile customers from unexpectedly high bills.

In 2009 a German traveller downloading a television show in France was confronted with a €46,000 bill while a UK student received a €9,000 bill for a single month on a stint at another university abroad.

Though Kroes has said she would prefer voluntary commitments to lower prices, the move represents Kroes' first manoeuvre against the telecoms industry in her new position as the digital agenda commissioner, which she assumed in February this year.

Her predecessor, Viviane Reding, made her name in 2007 when she introduced the roaming regulation in the face of plenty of industry criticism.

Kroes seems to be carrying Reding's baton now, the overall aim being to establish a genuine European internal market where calls between EU countries would cost the same as making national phone calls.

"The difference between roaming and national tariffs should approach zero by 2015," according to Kroes' 'Digital Agenda' manifesto, which sets out the EU executive's goals on telecoms policy for the next five years.

In June 2007, the European Commission introduced a regulation placing caps on prices of cross-border mobile calls in Europe, the so-called 'roaming regulation'.

The EU executive's intervention was limited to roaming because domestic calls remain a competence of national regulators. The first roaming regulation also excluded text messaging and data.

However, in February 2008, EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding told mobile operators to reduce roaming fees further and voluntarily cut tariffs for both texts and data sent abroad (EURACTIV 12/02/08).

A new regulation, agreed the following year, introduced further steps to gradually lower caps for voice roaming, together with guarantees against 'bill shocks' for data roaming. The new regulation entered into force in mid-2009 (EURACTIV 25/03/09).

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