The cost of sending text messages and downloading data will fall for people roaming between European Union countries, after the European Parliament voted through proposals for new price caps on Wednesday.
The new rules, which will come into force on 1 July, also call for voice-roaming charges to drop further, beyond the caps that were brought into force in 2007.
"Today's vote marks the definite end of the roaming rip-off in Europe," telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding said in a European Commission statement. "Thanks to the strong support of the European Parliament and the Council, the new roaming rules were agreed in the record time of just seven months. Just in time for the summer holidays, European citizens will now be able to see the single market without borders on their phone bills."
The levels of the caps were agreed in late March, following negotiations between the Industry Committee of the European Parliament and the Czech Presidency of the European Council. According to the Commission, the SMS and data-roaming caps were voted through on Wednesday with a large majority.
From the start of July, users will pay no more than €0.11 (10p), excluding VAT, per text message. Data roaming will be capped at €1 per megabyte downloaded. The data-roaming figure is a wholesale price cap for inter-operator charges, though, so the end user will end up paying more. This wholesale cap will gradually decrease over the next two years, ending up at €0.50 per megabyte in 2011.
Similarly, the maximum cost to the end user for voice calls will be €0.43 per minute for calls made and €0.19 per minute for received calls, but these figures will taper down to €0.35 and €0.11 respectively in mid-2011.
Per-second billing, after the first 30 seconds of the call, is also being introduced, so bills reflect actual call times more accurately.
Another element of the new rules covers 'bill shock', which is an industry term that refers to the surprise some customers experience when they receive an unusually high phone bill. To stop this happening, operators are being asked to introduce a scheme where customers can ask them to stop supplying service once charges reach €50 in a billing period. Operators have until March 2010 to offer this.
The price caps are"great news for mobile users travelling in Europe", James Parker, mobile manager at price-comparison site Moneysupermarket.com, said in a statement on Wednesday. However, he added that it was "a shame the Commission has to force the hand of the operators".
The roaming caps are part of a wider set of telecommunications legislation reforms, generally referred to as the Telecoms Package. Some other elements of that package are still being discussed — notably, an amendment that would make it impossible for providers to restrict a user's internet access without a judicial ruling allowing them to do so.
The European Parliament and the Council Presidency have been unable to agree on this amendment, which many see as crucial to putting down the foundations for a net-neutrality law in Europe. Lawmakers are scheduled to readdress the issue in another plenary vote in early May.