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Brussels plenary session 9-10 May: roaming charges, piracy and Arab Spring

New deal to cut mobile roaming prices, including data services

 
A mobile phone and a 2005 phone bill   Sustained EU action on roaming charges means that unpleasant surprises such as this 2005 phone bill are much rarer today ©BELGA/EPA

The cost of using mobile phones, smartphones and tablets when travelling abroad within the EU will fall sharply from 1 July this year, under an agreement with the Council endorsed by Parliament on 10 May. The new rules will also enable clients to buy roaming services from suppliers other than their home service suppliers and open up the market to new entrants, so as to boost competition and thus reduce prices.


The proposal will enter into force on 1 July 2012, replacing the 2007 regulation, which expires on 30 June 2012.


"Using mobile devices abroad remains expensive. During the summer holidays, our citizens will be able to take advantage of more favourable tariffs. Parliament has succeeded in its call for cheaper roaming prices for consumers, and in particular for data roaming. In addition, from July 2014, consumers will be able to choose an operator other than their national operator for roaming services. The new rules will also help to open up the market to new entrants and so increase competition," said rapporteur Angelika Niebler (EPP, DE), in the debate in plenary on Wednesday.


The agreement was adopted with 578 votes in favour, 10 against and 10 abstentions.


New roaming price ceilings


Under pressure from MEPs, the cost of using data services will be capped at 70 Euro cents per megabyte from 1 July 2012 and will then fall in stages to 45 cents in 2013 and 20 cents on 1 July 2014. There is currently no limit to the prices operators can charge for mobile data services to retail consumers (see table below).


New retail caps on voice calls will reduce the cost of a one-minute call to 29 cents from 1 July 2012 and 19 cents from July 2014, down from the current maximum of 35 cents. Text messages will also be cheaper, falling from the current maximum price of 11 cents to 9 cents on 1 July this year and 6 cents on 1 July 2014.


Preventing "bill shocks"


Alerts in the EU to prevent "bill shocks" will be extended to also cover people travelling outside the Union. As from 1 July 2012, people will get a warning message when they approach 50 Euros of charges in a month (excluding VAT), if the foreign network is compatible.


Boosting competition on the roaming market


The new deal also proposes for the first time measures to boost competition.


From 1 July 2014, customers will be able to buy their domestic and roaming services separately, from different operators, if they so wish, whilst keeping the same phone number. They will not be charged for switching providers and their home country provider will be obliged to inform them of this right.


Furthermore, as from 1 July 2012, virtual mobile network operators (MVNOs), i.e. those who do not have their own networks, will have the right to access other operator's networks at wholesale prices in order to provide roaming services. This will encourage more operators to compete on the roaming market.


Next steps


The new rules will be adopted by the Council of Ministers in June and apply with direct effect in all EU Member States from 1 July 2012. The European Commission must review the functioning of these rules by 30 June 2016.


Retail ceilings (charged to consumers) excluding VAT





Current

1 July 2012

1 July 2013

1 July 2014

Data (per megabyte)

none

70 cents

45 cents

20 cents

Phone calls made (per minute)

35 cents

29 cents

23 cents

19 cents

Phone calls received (per minute)

11 cents

8 cents

7 cents

5 cents

SMS (per SMS)

11 cents

9 cents

8 cents

6 cents



Wholesale ceilings (charged between operators) excluding VAT





Current

1 July 2012

1 July 2013

1 July 2014

Data (per megabyte)

50 cents

25 cents

15 cents

5 cents

Phone calls (per minute)

18 cents

14 cents

10 cents

5 cents

SMS (per SMS)

4 cents

3 cents

2 cents

2 cents


Procedure: Co-decision (1st reading)