A new wholesale cap on European data-roaming rates came into force on Thursday, lowering the limit on how much operators can charge each other to carry travellers' cellular data.
The cap has been lowered from €1 (82p) to €0.80 per megabyte. In addition, a new monthly default data roaming cut-off of €50 has been introduced to protect people from the 'bill shock' that results from, for example, the downloading of movies on to phones while abroad.
The retail price cap for voice roaming within the EU was also lowered to €0.39 per minute for calls made and €0.15 per minute for calls received, and it now costs nothing to receive a voicemail while roaming.
On Tuesday, the European Commission issued a report in which it said that the average wholesale price for data roaming had reached just €0.55 per megabyte by the end of last year.
"Average consumer prices have also fallen, from €3.62 per megabyte to €2.66 at the end of 2009," the report noted. "The Commission expects operators to pass on savings at wholesale level to consumers as lower retail prices, which it will continue to monitor."
Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes took on the job of overseeing roaming caps — previously the responsibility of Viviane Reding — early this year. In a statement accompanying Tuesday's report into voice and data roaming, Kroes said operators continue to "propose retail prices that hover around the maximum legal caps [and] more competition on the EU roaming market would provide better choice and even better rates to consumers".
According to Kroes's spokesman, Jonathan Todd, the Commission is deliberately "not being specific" about what it intends to do to ensure increased competition, but will make its intentions clear when the caps are reviewed by the middle of 2011.
"One of the objectives in the Digital Agenda is that the difference between roaming and national rates should approach zero by 2015," Todd said on Wednesday. "All options are open. We are not committing ourselves at this stage as to which route we want to go down, [but] this is an issue that we're looking at very closely."
Kevin Russell, the chief executive of 3 UK — a network that promotes itself as being data-centric — branded the €0.80 wholesale data-roaming cap "a joke" on Thursday, arguing that the cap should be lower.
"Data roaming, from an EU standpoint, has to be addressed over the next couple of years," Russell said.
Referring to the €50 cut-off point introduced on Thursday, an Orange spokesperson said the operator's customers would be alerted to the cap by SMS.
"Pay monthly customers will be alerted when they have used 8MB of data, and again when they are approaching their 16MB allowance," the spokesperson said in an email. "Pay-as-you-go customers will be alerted when they have used 6MB of data and again when they are approaching their 12MB allowance."
ZDNet UK asked Orange and other operators for their view on the relation between wholesale and retail data roaming prices, and on how low retail prices should go, but had received no answer at the time of writing.