Holiday-goers are in for a treat this summer. The European Union has just approved a cap on roaming charges that will progressively put international calls and messages at nearly the same price as domestic ones. Mobile companies are displeased.
The European Parliament and Member States have reached an agreement to lower the maximum cap for roaming charges within the European Union. The new maximum values will replace the roaming charges set by the EU in 2007 which were due to expire in June.
2007 was the first time roaming charges were regulated after much angered protests by consumers that they were being greatly ripped off by the high prices telecommunications companies charged for calls and messages sent from abroad. In the period from 2007 until now it is estimated that call charges from abroad were lowered by 75% which is quite a reflection of the changes in this sector.
However, the European Commission deemed it was not enough. There was criticism that telecoms tended to concentrate their prices at the higher end of the charge-spectrum with no intention of lowering their prices further.
Consumers complained that they continued to pay much higher prices abroad than domestically and many admitted being afraid to use their phones abroad for Internet services such as checking their e-mail. In fact, the new applications for phones such as Internet browsing, e-mail and Facebook checking were developed fairly recently and have grown exponentially in the last few years. They were not broadly considered in 2007 when the EU set its first roaming charges cap. Five years later and at the end of this roaming charges regulation, a new focus has been given to data and Internet use.
The rates will drop from the 1 July from 35 cents (plus tax) to 29 for a call and from 11 cents to 9 for text messages. In 2014 charges will be further reduced to a maximum of 19 cents for calls and 6 cents for text messages. Data is also contemplated in this regulation: 70 cents per megabyte to download data or browse the internet while travelling abroad, charged per kilobyte used. The aim is to reach parity between domestic and international costs by 2015. From 2014, costumers will be able to choose their roaming provider, having then the opportunity to shop around for the most competitive prices.
Some telecommunication companies are very angered by these reductions in the roaming charges cap. They claim that it cripples competition and makes these services unprofitable. Companies like Vodafone fear that they will have to charge more for other services. The prices should be determined by competition, not regulated by the EU, they argue. But MEPs retort that nothing had changed before the first cap on roaming charges was introduced in 2007. The fact that companies will now have to compete for international costumers like they do for domestic ones means an extra healthy dose of competition, add some MEPs.