EU mobile phone charges coming down

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More enforced cuts in mobile phone roaming charges apply tomorrow - with the European Commission intent on closing the gap between domestic and "foreign" call rates to virtually nothing by 2015.

Existing rules to prevent bill shocks for using the internet via mobile while abroad remain: operators must apply an automatic 50 euro (£45) cut-off limit on accounts unless the customer explicitly agrees otherwise.

Compulsory maximum roaming rates were first imposed on mobile network operators four years ago to tackle what the Commission called the "roaming rip-off" - mobile network operators were said to be making profits of more than 200% for mobile calls made while in another EU country, and 300% or 400% for calls received.

A legal claim by the networks that the Commission was exceeding its powers failed last year, and rates fell further.

Tomorrow the maximum permitted charges fall yet again: consumers opting for the EU-regulated "Eurotariff" will pay no more than 32p per minute (excluding VAT) for calls made while abroad - down from 35p - and 10p per minute for calls received while abroad in the EU.

Action by Brussels against high roaming charges has been one of the most popular consumer-driven moves by the EU - an average 60% cut in the maximum charges operators could levy on mobile users making or receiving calls while in another EU country since 2007.

Today's additional price drop means mobile roaming charges are about 75% cheaper on average than they were six years ago when the Commission first urged operators to cut their rates voluntarily.

The voluntary code failed,, and the temporary roaming rules introduced by the Commission to impose cuts expire next summer.

The EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes admitted today that, despite the cuts, the problem of a lack of open competition in the market remained, with operators generally charging at the top of the price cap.

"These latest price caps will temporarily reduce retail prices for making and receiving voice calls when in another EU country during the coming year.

"But we have to tackle roaming problems at the root with a long-lasting structural approach. The Commission will therefore be coming forward very shortly with comprehensive new proposals for long-term solutions to address the underlying problem of lack of competition in roaming markets."

The Commission says its aim remains to reduce the difference between mobile phone charges at home and while abroad to "almost zero" by 2015