EU ready to cut absurd data roaming charges -

Mobile operators will no longer be allowed to get away with charging holiday-makers or business travellers extortionate mobile phone data prices.

The European Union (EU) is expected to order them to cap costs charged to customers using their phones to access data services while abroad.

Currently, data roaming is capped at a maximum of €50 (£45, $73). However, if the proposals go ahead the price in July 2012 will be capped at €0.90 (0.81p, $1.31) per megabyte. There will also be a ceiling maximum of €0.70 ( 0.63p, $1.01)  a megabyte in 2013 and €0.50 (0.40p, $0.72)  a megabyte by 2014. The latter price would remain in place until the end of June 2016 when the regulations expired.  

The new plans follow proposals by the European Commission last week, which said that it wanted to extend roaming caps on calls.

At the time it said: "The roaming market is not yet competitive and further regulatory intervention is required."

However, each member state will be responsible for imposing and deciding what penalties a non complying mobile operator in their country will face. The EU has said that whatever is decided the penalty must be "effective, proportionate and dissuasive."

Neelie Kroes, Digital Agenda Commissioner, is expected to announce the proposals in Brussels tomorrow.

The news has been welcomed by uSwitch, which has said that recent research has found that nearly half of Brits have returned home to a large bill after using their mobile phone abroad, with the average post-holiday mobile bill landing in at around £149.

83 percent of mobile phone users believe current charges were too high, while 33 million plan to take their mobile abroad with them this summer.

Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, said that the new changes had not come a moment too soon: "People have been paying extortionate prices for the privilege of using their mobile abroad and millions have been stung by a nasty bill on their return.
 
“Even though the EU made a tentative first step to curb costs last year through the introduction of the €50 cap, it didn’t go far enough.

"The cap simply limited the amount people could use their phone, rather than the high prices they were being charged. By lowering call and text charges to a manageable level, consumers now have the freedom to roam at an affordable cost."

However he warns that the ruling doesn’t cover popular holiday destinations in Europe such as Turkey, which doesn't fall into the EU member states.

We contacted the GSM Association, which said that it looked forward to examining the European Commission’s final proposals and to engaging with all stakeholders over the coming months.

"We share the Commission’s belief that competition, not price caps, must be the right long term solution," it said in a statement.

"Any proposed structural measures will need assessing in detail.  Implementing solutions based on them would need to be efficient in terms of costs; limited to the roaming market, proportionate in terms of impact; and easy to use for customers. It would be counter-productive to combine stringent price caps with structural measures to foster competition in this market."

However, there are some sore points. In a statement it said: "We are disappointed that the Commission is considering the retail data roaming market as a candidate for price cap regulation, in addition to proposing structural measures. If any price caps are introduced, they should be set at true “safeguard” levels to avoid dampening innovation and competition in the market.

 "The mobile industry will continue to invest and innovate to help deliver the EU’s Digital Agenda. Supportive EU policies and regulations can enable this. It is vital that we find the right balance to ensure the necessary investments in future networks that will be needed to cater for the explosion of mobile data traffic.”