Roaming charges get cheaper

More cuts in mobile phone roaming charges in the EU came into force today – coupled with new rules to prevent users accidentally racking up huge bills when they use their phones to connect to the internet.

Compulsory maximum roaming rates were first imposed on mobile network operators two years ago to tackle what EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding 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 earlier this month.

Now the Commission is lowering the maximum permitted charge rates even further, and introducing measures to stop open-ended billing for “data roaming”.

From today, operators are obliged to apply an automatic €50 cut-off limit on accounts if the customer has not stipulated their own limit. The operating network must send customers a warning when they reach 80% of their data-roaming billing limit.

If the limit is reached, the operator must cut off the mobile internet connection unless the customer has declared in advance a wish to continue data roaming above their normal agreed limit in a particular month.

The European Court of Justice, throwing out a legal challenge against such EU Commission interference in setting rates, ruled earlier this month that Brussels was right to “protect consumers against excessive prices ... even if it might have negative economic consequences for certain operators”.

The first move against high roaming charges in the summer of 2008 was 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.

Maximum rates have been cut once again since then and now again this week, making mobile roaming charges 73% cheaper on average than they were five years ago when the Commission first began pressing operators to cut their rates voluntarily.

The Commission says it will review the roaming charges again next summer, when there may be even more price cuts.

The ultimate aim, said a spokesman, is to reduce the difference in domestic and roaming tariffs to virtually zero by 2015.

The move was welcomed by Communications Minister Eamon Ryan.

“For too long, roaming “rip offs” have been allowed to occur at the expense of the consumer,” said the Minister.

“Practically every adult in Ireland has a mobile phone. These customers shouldn’t be wary of using them when they’re travelling within the Union, for fear that they will be faced with an exorbitant bill.

"Now, with a transparent, affordable pricing structure right across the EU, they will know exactly what to expect and how much they should be paying."

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