Mobile roaming charges set for cuts in Europe

New rules aimed at reducing the price gap between using a mobile phone at home and elsewhere in the EU have been proposed.

The European Commission wants to cut “roaming” costs – when calls are made or received, text messages sent or data downloaded when travelling in Europe.

New, lower price caps could come into force in stages to July 2014.

By then, mobile phone customers would also be able to separate their national and overseas contracts and shop around.

They would still be able to use their same phone number, but could switch to a separate operator when in another country for a cheaper deal for surfing the web or downloading music or photos.

At present, mobile users can buy a Sim card local to the country in which they are travelling, but this means they are on a different phone number to usual.

The Commission hopes that more “virtual” operators, which do not have their own networks, would enter the roaming market. The extra competition would then be expected to push down prices.

‘Outrageous margins’

In the meantime, proposals have been published that would extend the level of price caps on calls and text messages for those travelling in Europe.

Current EU roaming price caps will expire at the end of June 2012. The authorities fear that without putting more plans in place, prices could pick up to pre-2007 levels.

For example, there is currently a cap of 35 euro cents (31p) a minute on calls made, excluding VAT. The proposals would see this falling steadily to 24 cents (22p), by July 2014.

There is currently no cap per megabyte on downloading data, but this would be limited to 50 cents (45p) per megabyte by July 2014, under the Commission’s plans.

One megabyte is the equivalent of downloading 100 e-mails without attachments, less than an hour of internet browsing, one minute of downloading music or a few seconds of video downloading.

A more general cap is in place at present to avoid so-called bill shocks. Operators are compelled to place a 50 euro (£45) cap on users’ data consumption in order to avoid unexpectedly high bills. Customers who wish to continue their data roaming can request to have the limit removed.

“This proposal tackles the root cause of the problem – the lack of competition on roaming markets – by giving customers more choice and by giving alternative operators easier access to the roaming market,” said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda.

“It would also immediately bring down prices for data roaming, where operators currently enjoy outrageous profit margins.”

Source: BBC

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