European rules to prevent 'bill shock' for data roaming abroad have come into force, meaning that mobile operators must start offering their customers a cap on expenditure.
From the start of this week, operators must halt mobile data service to customers when they reach a total of €50 (£45) in charges within a month for overseas usage within the EU, the European Commission said in a statement on Monday. Subscribers may also set their own cap on spending, but if they do not choose a limit by 1 July, the €50 cap will be used.
The move is being made to eliminate 'bill shock', where a customer receives a bill for an amount far higher than they were expecting. Both voice and data charges are regulated across the EU, but it is still possible to unwittingly run up a bill for thousands of pounds.
"Protection against data-roaming bill shocks is a useful step towards building customers' confidence to use mobile networks to surf the internet when travelling around Europe. Such confidence is essential if people and businesses are to use the internet to its full potential," competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said in the statement.
A UK student was last month reported by the Observer as running up a bill of around £8,000 for using data in France, while a German traveller was issued with a bill for €46,000 for roaming activities that included downloading a television programme.
Wholesale data is priced at a maximum of €1 plus VAT per megabyte, but retail prices can exceed this limit.
Under the EU's guidelines, customers who have spent 80 percent of their cap will receive a warning message, and the data service will be cut off if they reach the cap.
Customers can still be persuaded by their operator to take a higher cap. For example, Virgin Media has begun offering bundles of EU roaming access for mobile broadband dongles priced at £60 a month — more than the €50 limit. However, the bundle covers 60MB of data, which would cost £300 at Virgin's standard fee of £5 per megabyte.
The guidelines only apply to countries in the EU, and high bills can still be built up by data roaming in other countries.