Mobile roaming charges to fall again


Mobile phone roaming charges will fall again from July following a European Parliament vote today.

The latest round of cuts are the latest step towards a European Commission goal of reducing the gap between domestic and "foreign" call rates to virtually nothing by 2015.

As well as further reducing the cost of making calls from abroad and receiving calls from home, today's decision cuts the cost of "data roaming" when holidaymakers want to download information from the internet.

The cuts involve reducing the cost of making a mobile call from another EU country from about 30p a minute to 24p, while the cost of sending a text drops to just 7p. Overall, roaming costs have fallen by up to 75% since the campaign began in 2007, said the commission.

Europe's "Digital Agenda" Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "By putting price caps on data we have created a roaming market for the smart phone generation. More than that, we have ended the rip-offs familiar to anyone who has used a mobile phone while travelling abroad.

"I am pleased that year after year the European Union is putting money back into the pockets of citizens."

London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball said: "For far too long exorbitant and unnecessary fees have cost EU citizens. These charges are unjustifiable and we finally have been able to intervene and set up sensible fees which don't put ordinary hard-working people out of pocket.

"Under the deal a 50p cap protects mobile users from accidentally running up unexpected bills if they forget to turn off their data roaming setting."

South East of England Labour MEP Peter Skinner said: "Brits travelling abroad this summer will really feel the difference in their pocket. It will be cheaper to make a call, send a text or check Facebook or the football scores online.

"When you're travelling, you often want to download data, to find out about places to visit, for example. So there will be a dramatic reduction in prices particularly for internet use."

He warned: "If roaming prices have not come all the way down to domestic levels by 2016, then the European Commission will be obliged to propose additional legislation to ensure that roaming charges are identical to domestic prices."

Liberal Democrat leader in the European Parliament Fiona Hall said: "It is great news that business and leisure travellers will be able to profit from even lower mobile phone roaming charges this summer.

"In particular, the cap on data service charges is an important first step to bring down the outrageous cost for browsing the internet abroad, which is the main cause of nasty bill shocks for consumers returning home from their holidays or business trips."

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

Under the new rules, applicable from July, consumers travelling in another EU country than their own will pay no more than:

* 29 euro cents (24 pence) per minute to make a call

* 8 cents (7p) to receive a call

* 9 cents (8p) to send a text message

* 70 cents per megabyte (58p) to download data or browse the internet whilst travelling abroad, charged per kilobyte used.

Monique Goyens, director general of European consumer organisation BEUC, welcomed the latest roaming cuts but warned: "The issue of transparency remains a concern: a recent EU-wide survey found 74 per cent of consumers are hesitant to use their phone abroad to call, check email, download photos or use voice services for fear of cost.

"This latest battle for fairer pricing can only help reduce that number."

South West England Conservative MEP Giles Chichester said: "This is a piece of EU legislation which is of practical assistance to consumers and, in particular, to once-a-year holidaymakers abroad. What is more, it will help small businesses seeking to expand sales abroad.

"By putting a cap on the amount mobile operators can charge for roaming data, we will be saving many people from a nasty surprise that can spoil the end of their holidays."

He added: "We would have preferred not to legislate and to let the mobile companies trim rates voluntarily - but the operators failed to budge."

East of England Tory MEP Vicky Ford said: "Excessive charging for roaming causes consumers and operators to lose out. Many consumers who have faced high charges just switch off their data roaming and don't access services at all."

Marzena Lipman, policy manager at Consumer Focus, welcomed the new data-roaming cap on bills when using a mobile elsewhere in the EU, but said the same safeguard should apply at home.

"Data-roaming caps are particularly good news, as data-use can incur some of the biggest and most unexpected bills for consumers.

"However it is unfair that customers using their phones at home in the UK do not have a similar level of protection. We'd like to see this gap in protection closed voluntarily by mobile phone providers or for the regulator to tackle this issue."

According to a Mobile Workforce report due to be published later this month by Wi-Fi network iPass, one in three mobile users has experienced so-called "bill shock" from unexpected data roaming charges. The report is based on a survey of more than 1,500 people.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "This looks like good news for consumers but it's come too late for over 1.4 million mobile phone customers who were affected by bill shock in the last six months alone.

"We want to see an end to hefty data charges for consumers wherever they are in the world and clearer information from phone companies about what they charge for services in the UK and abroad."