European Commission targets high data roaming charges

The European Commission has announced a major crackdown on "outrageous" charges for using the internet when travelling in the EU.

The European Commission has announced a major crackdown on "outrageous" charges for using the internet when travelling in the EU.

Just days after declaring more cuts in mobile phone roaming charges, Brussels stepped up the campaign against network operators by calling for the proposed slashing of "data roaming" costs.

The Commission says consumers are currently charged an average of €2.23 per megabyte when downloading abroad on another mobile group's network - and in some cases as much as €12.

Under plans expected to be approved by MEPs and EU ministers, the maximum operators can charge from July 1 next year will be just 90c per megabyte, falling even further in July 2014 to 50c per megabyte to download data or browse the internet whilst visiting another EU country.

But the Commission acknowledged in a report that its campaign so far of enforced price caps on the cost of using mobile phones abroad - first introduced four years ago - had not had the long-term effect of opening up the market: operators simply apply the compulsory charge at the maximum allowed but have no incentive to cut prices further.

So these proposals also recommend that, from July 1 2014, mobile customers will be able for the first time to opt for a cheaper mobile roaming contract - separate from their national mobile contract - while using the same phone number and SIM card.

And to boost competition further, "alternative" mobile operators - such as supermarkets - will be able to offer roaming services alongside established companies, aided by rules allowing them to use other operators' networks in other member states at regulated wholesale prices.

That, said EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, should encourage more operators to compete on the roaming market:

"This proposal tackles the root cause of the problem - the lack of competition on roaming markets - by giving customers more choice and by giving alternative operators easier access to the roaming market.

"It would also bring down prices for data roaming, where operators currently enjoy outrageous profit margins."

The proposals are contained in a new EU Directive on roaming charges to replace existing rules which expire in 2014.

Last week, under the current rules, the Commission cut the maximum permitted mobile roaming call charge rate to 36c per minute - down from 39c - and to 11c for incoming calls.

On July 1 2014, the maximum falls to 24c to make a call, and 10c for incoming calls.

But Brussels needs renewed approval to extend its campaign to slash internet roaming costs using smart phones and tablets, and open up competition.

Asked if the new proposals would get through MEPs and ministers, a Commission spokesman said: "It would be hard to imagine them objecting, given the popularity of the cuts we have made under current EU roaming rules."

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