MEPs vote in favour of further reductions to costs of using mobile phones abroad; consumers ‘still not feeling the full benefit of open competition’ - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEPs vote in favour of further reductions to costs of using mobile phones abroad; consumers ‘still not feeling the full benefit of open competition’

Saturday, 3 March 2012
Mobile phone companies are still not doing enough to drive down prices for consumers using their mobile phone abroad – that was the ruling of the European Parliament’s Industry Committee (ITRE) which this week approved plans for a major shake-up in the mobile roaming market and an extension of pre-existing price caps.

In force since 2007, current EU roaming regulations have introduced price caps on cross-border mobile phone calls and text messages. When entering a different country, mobile users now receive a text message outlining the cost of making calls and sending text messages. But these prices still vary greatly from country to country and on Wednesday (28th), MEPs voted to replace current rules, which expire in June 2012, with lower price caps – much stricter than had been proposed by the European Commission.

According to the new price caps proposed by the Committee (PDF), from July 2014 consumers should pay no more than €0.15 (12p) per minute to make a call and €0.05 (4p) to receive.

Text messages would be pegged at €0.05 (4p) and data downloads at €0.20 (16p) per megabyte.

The price ceiling would be introduced on a sliding scale, starting in July this year, with outgoing calls costing a maximum of €0.25 (20p) per minute and incoming €0.08 (7p), texts capped at €0.08 (7p), and data roaming costs limited to €0.50 (42p) per megabyte.

The Parliament’s proposals (PDF) also envisage allowing customers to sign up for a second, alternative, provider for their roaming services abroad if their domestic service-provider is charging too much.

Users would still be able to use the same number for all these services.

South West Conservative MEP Giles Chichester, the Industry spokesman for his political group, welcomed the vote but lamented that mobile companies were not doing enough and so necessitated the Parliament stepping in. In a statement after the vote in Committee he said: “
too many people have suffered excessive charges when using their mobile phones abroad – and for too long. Ideally we would like the industry to act itself to cut prices and that is why we want to introduce a simple system whereby consumers can have two providers, one for domestic services and another for roaming.

We would have hoped by now that the industry would have seen the light and taken action to avoid further intervention, but that has not happened. Further regulation in this area should always be the last resort, but regrettably we’re now on the third set of EU roaming regulations,” he said.

We hope competition and the potential threat of losing customers will then serve to drive down prices.”

The outcome was also welcomed by British Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall who said people travelling on leisure or business are "rightfully outraged by the rip-off charges for cross-border mobile phone calls and data transmission. Worse, at a time when we are all promoting the single market in Europe with a particular focus on freeing the potential of the digital market, data roaming fees are almost prohibitively expensive."

The new measures have yet to be approved by the full European Parliament in plenary (possibly during the April session in Strasbourg) and the European Council. They are intended to take force when current regulations expire on 30th June.

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