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EU rules signal cheaper mobile calls for travellers

Brussels — European holidaymakers can expect a lower bill for using their mobile phones while abroad in Europe this summer because new EU regulated price caps took effect across the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday.

The European Commission, which has led the drive to force down roaming rates, estimates that EU consumers could save as much 60 percent when they use their mobile phones while travelling abroad.

"In a Europe where you can travel without borders, it is essential that you can also use your mobile phone without borders," said Monique Goyens, director general of the BEUC European consumers association.

Under the new limits, the price of making a call while abroad in the European Union will fall to 43 euro cents (61 US cents) per minute, excluding sales tax, from a previous maximum of 46 euro cents.

The price of receiving calls abroad will drop to 19 cents from 22 cents.

The lower caps are part of an ongoing EU campaign to reduce the cost of using mobile phones across European borders, known as roaming fees, after regulated limits were first imposed in 2007.

The new rules will require mobile operators to bill customers by the second from the 30th second of a call in order prevent them from rounding up to the highest minute, a practice which can cost consumers dearly.

The regulated prices are also being extended, for the first time, to cover sending text messages and surfing the Internet via phone.

"From today, all Europeans making calls or sending texts with their mobiles can experience the EU’s single market without borders. The roaming-rip off is now coming to an end," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding in a statement.

Under the new rules, sending a text message from abroad in the EU will cost a maximum 11 cents, excluding sales tax, little more than a third of the previous EU average of 28 cents.

In order to reduce the cost of surfing the Internet from hand-held devices, the new rules will also limit the price operators charge each other for transferring a megabyte of data while a user is on the road to a maximum of 1.00 euros.

"I call on the mobile industry to pass these savings on to data roaming customers swiftly," Reding said.

"The (European) Commission and national regulators will monitor data roaming charges very carefully and assess next year whether the roaming market is finally becoming competitive."

Goyens said that if operators failed to pass on the cut in wholesale rates to consumers then European authorities should consider capping retail rates for data roaming as well.

"If the prices are not significantly reduced by the operators, more guarantees will have to be given to consumers in the future," she said.

"Why should someone receive an extortionate phone bill when they get home from their holiday just because they checked their lotto numbers or latest football scores?"