New EU rules on mobile phone roaming charges are set to come into force this summer, including allowing for seperate roaming contracts
Mobile phone and tablet users who have been stung by hefty data charges when abroad will be pleased to hear new roaming rules are on the way.
The European Parliament and European Commission announced they have reached a preliminary deal on EU roaming rules, which will force mobile operators to reduce the prices of making a call or downloading data when abroad.
“These rules will lead to a structural and durable solution to the high cost of using mobile phones and other smart devices whilst travelling in the EU,” said the European Parliament.
End of rip off rates?
The European Parliament is expected to approve the agreement in May 2012, and the Council is expected to sign off on the deal in June, paving the way for the rules to enter into force on 1 July 2012.
“The rules will create more competition in the roaming market,” said the European Parliament. “In the meantime they impose new safeguard limits on consumer prices, including a new price cap for data roaming, which will progressively bring prices down from current high levels until the benefits of competition have fully kicked in.”
“Consumers are fed up with being ripped off by high roaming charges,” added Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president for the Digital Agenda.
“The new roaming deal gives us a long-term structural solution, with lower prices, more choice and a new smart approach for data and Internet browsing,” she said. “The benefits will be felt in time for the summer break – and by summer 2014, people can shop around for the best deal.”
Under new regulation consumers will pay no more than 29 cents (24p) per minute to make a call and 8 cents (6p) per minute to receive a call. Meanwhile it will cost 70 cents (59p) per megabyte for data downloads across Europe. SMS messages will cost 9 cents (7p).
These regulated price caps will progressively go down so that by 1 July 2014, roaming consumers will be paying no more than 19 cents (16p) per minute to make a call and a maximum 5 cents (4p) per minute to receive a call. It will also eventually cost a maximum of 6 cents (5p) to send a text message and maximum 20 cents (17p) per megabyte for data downloads.
The change comes after many customers were stung by bills of thousands of pounds after failing to understand the high costs associated with roaming charges when abroad.
At the moment mobile phone calls when roaming are limited to 30p and sending an SMS capped at 9p. However, data roaming charges are the killer, as there has been no limit on what companies can charge per megabyte of data.
Separate roaming contracts
From July 2014 the new rules will allow customers to shop around for the best deal and sign up for a separate mobile contract for roaming. This will allow a customer to use a domestic mobile contract in the UK and another when travelling across Europe.
“Each time the customer crosses a border, his or her phone will switch to the network of the roaming provider which they have chosen, without any further action on their part,” said the European Parliament. “Customers will also have the option to directly select a local mobile network for data roaming in the country they are visiting.”
The arrival of these new rules will come as something of a blow to some mobile operators. O2’s owner Telefonica told the European Parliament that the rules were too strict and could reduce competition.
However, in February, mobile operator Three, alongside consumer groups, urged communications minister Ed Vaizey to veto the European plan, because the cost cuts to mobile data rates do not go far enough.
But the new rules have been welcomed by some observers.
“European mobile users will benefit from radical shake-up of roaming market, but operators will suffer,” said Paul Lambert, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. “The move paves the way for hitherto unseen competition in the market for mobile access while travelling in the European Union, from July 2014 onwards, resulting in lower prices for consumers but new threats to European operators’ revenues.
“Although the willingness of European consumers to buy mobile services from operators other than their home service provider is hard to gauge, what is certain is that the proposals, if voted into effect 10 May, will significantly increase the pressure on mobile operators to offer more competitive roaming rates to their customers.
“This will in turn reduce roaming revenues at a faster rate of decline than has been seen in recent years, potentially leading to more expensive mobile services for consumers in their home market – the ‘waterbed effect’ operators often speak about when discussing the effects of roaming regulation.”
Long time coming
Indeed, it is fair to say that the new roaming rules have been a long time coming.
Last July, new regulations forced all European operators to implement a monthly default cap for data roaming of 50 euros (£42). If users exceed this amount whilst aboard Internet access is automatically choked off, unless by prior agreement.
But holidaymakers outside the eurozone are not guaranteed such protection.
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