EU travellers to get cheaper mobile messages, calls
The European Commission has for years lamented huge discrepancies between the cost of using mobiles in one's home country and while abroad in the EU, which it considers to be Europe's single unified market.Strasbourg -- European travellers will pay less to send text messages and surf the Internet with their mobile phones under a package approved by lawmakers at the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The plans will also lower regulated price caps in place since 2007 that limit how much mobile phone operators can charge EU customers for making and receiving calls while abroad in the 27-nation European Union.
The European Commission, which originally proposed the plans, said they could save EU consumers as much as 60 percent when they use their mobile phones while travelling abroad in the bloc, which is known as roaming.
"The European Parliament has ensured that consumers enjoying a holiday abroad this summer will not be shocked by extortionate phone bills when they return home," said Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC European consumers association. "Using your mobile phone abroad should not cost much more then using it in our own country -- it is the same technology and in many instances even the same company.”
The main innovation of the package, which builds on 2007 price caps on making calls from abroad, is to limit the price operators can charge customers for sending short text messages via their mobile phones while they are abroad to 11 euro cents (14 US cents) from July.
Currently, sending such messages costs 28 cents on average, nearly 10 times the price for sending messages from within one's home country.
The new package also aims to help people who use their mobiles or other hand-held devices to surf the Internet while they are travelling within the EU.
It will limit the wholesale price of transferring a megabyte of data while on the road to a maximum of 1.00 euro from July 2009, then to 80 cents as of July 2010 and 50 cents from July 2011.
The price for such services currently stands at about 1.68 euros.
The European Commission has repeatedly warned about the high cost of surfing the Internet over mobile devices while abroad, highlighting the case of one German who was hit with a bill for 46,000 euros (59,500 dollars) for downloading a television programme while in France.
The package would also allow subscribers to set cut-off limits to how much they are ready to pay for downloads, with the ceiling set by default at 50 euros, excluding VAT, per month.
The scheme, which operators would have until March 2010 to put in place, would also require telephone companies to send warnings to customers as they approach their download limit.
The package aims to reduce the price of making and receiving phone calls by requiring mobile telephone operators to charge by the second, rather than topping up to the nearest minute.
They will however be allowed to charge for 30 seconds for any very short call.
The plans will also further reduce the regulated limit which mobile operators can charge customers for calls made while abroad in the EU to 0.43 euro cents per minute, excluding value added tax, from 0.45 cents currently.
That ceiling will be lowered in July 2010 to 0.39 cents and in July 2011 to 0.35 cents.
The European Commission has for years lamented huge discrepancies between the cost of using mobiles in one's home country and while abroad in the EU, which it considers to be Europe's single unified market.
"After this vote, Europe is now clearly the most attractive continent in the world for mobile phone users," commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said.