Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

Europe backs mobile roaming cap

Holiday makers on beach, AFP
Many people are caught out when using their phone while on holiday

European telecoms chiefs have backed plans to make it cheaper to access data while on a mobile phone abroad.

The measures will slash the cost of sending a text while abroad and reform the way phone operators charge for data calls made when customers roam.

The changes to charges are due to come in to force across the EU's 27 member nations from July 2009.

Some nations and industry groups said the changes could mean higher charges for other services.

Costly calls

"We want to avoid so-called bill shock, when someone gets back from a holiday and gets a nasty surprise," said Luc Chatel, French minister for industry and consumer affairs.

Operators have plenty of margin
Viviane Reding

Many people have incurred high data download charges for using their phone when abroad to get a photo or watch a video.

The initial proposals to cap data roaming charges were made by EU Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding.

On 27 November the package of measures won the backing of EU telecoms ministers at a ministerial meeting.

The rules put a retail price cap of 11 euro cents (9p) on texts sent while roaming - a substantial cut on the European average of 29 euro cents (24p). The ministers backed a cap of 1 euro per megabyte (83p) on the price of downloading data - though this applies only to the charges operators levy on each other.

Also included in the rules is a mechanism that will allow for connections to be cut if a data bill hits 50 euros (41).

Operators' fears

Not all ministers were equally happy with the EU proposals.

"If operators don't get their revenues from roaming then they will get it from somewhere else," the Czech Republic said.

The GSM Association, which represents operators, declared its "disappointment" that the measures were deemed necessary.

"In the current economic climate governments should be working to encourage investments," said a spokesman.

"The biggest concern is extending the use of retail price regulation which is a very extreme step and could deter investment in new services," he added.

"The real cost of transmitting an SMS on roaming is less than one cent," said Commissioner Reding. "I believe there is ample room between one cent and 11 cents which is the ceiling which will be fixed."

"Operators will be able to provide 25 to 50 cents per megabyte and we set one euro per megabyte," she said. "Operators have plenty of margin."

She added that traffic had jumped 30-35% on voice calls since EU tariffs cut the roaming charges by 50-60%.

Research suggests that phone owners would use their phones more overseas if worries about high charges were eased.

20% of the people questioned by research firm TNS said confusion over roaming charges stopped them using their phone overseas. If offered a fixed price for roaming data 17% of those questioned by TNS said they would be more likely to use their phone more while abroad.

Now the proposals have won the backing of EU telecoms ministers, the proposals pass to the European Parliament.

However, it is not expected to raise any significant objections and the measures are expected to come in to force in July 2009.

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