Many of Europe's economies may be on the way down, but at least the European Commission will be able to point to plunging mobile roaming charges as its citizens pack for their holidays in July and August. Ian Scales reports.
On July 1 this year mobile operators across Europe will have to abide by new retail price limits on pan-European roaming charges.
In a deal just stitched together by the commission and due to be passed by the parliament and then the council by the end of June, roaming voice calls are to cost no more than 29 euro cents per minute (down from 35 cents), texts 9 cents (down from 11) and a data megabyte no more than 70 cents.
A down escalator will continue to shave more big chunks from roaming revenues over the next few years: voice calls are to drop to 19 cents per minute in 2014, texts to 6 cents and a data megabyte to 20 cents. Then, by 2015, roaming tariffs are supposed to fall into line with domestic prices.
The move comes after years of criticism from European consumer watchdogs and gouged citizens about the inexplicable cost of taking a mobile and making calls from another country - especially when the operator concerned is likely to have a fully-owned subsidiary in the roamed-to country. The result has been two decades of bill shock stories and, more latterly, €1000 data roaming charges. Why do they do it? Just because they can.
The commission, first under Viviane Reding and now under the current European digital agenda commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has battled long and hard to get roaming prices under control - the EU, after all, is first and foremost supposed to be a single market.
In the late 2000s the commission attempted to engineer reductions by regulating downwards the wholesale roaming rates (the prices telcos charged each other) on the basis that the retail prices were sure to follow. But the EC made the elementary mistake of assuming that mobile operated in a properly functioning competitive market: it doesn't. Now, to ensure reductions, retail prices are to be capped - the only language mobile operators seem to understand.
And in case the roaming price capping doesn't work, Kroes has also introduced legislation to mandate networks to allow their users to switch telcos when roaming to get the best price.
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