MEPs back cheaper European data-roaming rates

MEPs have put forward proposals that if passed would lower the cost of data roaming across Europe further than existing European Commission proposals and increase competition among operators
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

European lawmakers have backed a heftier cut to the cost of data roaming than set out by EU regulators, after recommending proposals that could go to a general European Parliament vote within months.

The Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) approved draft legislation on Tuesday that, if passed, would cap data-roaming charges and set lower roaming price caps for calls and SMS texts than proposed by the European Commission.

Data-roaming proposals

The European Parliament has approved proposals that will lower caps on roaming rates beyond those already put forward by the European Commission. Top: proposed data-roaming caps. Below: voice and SMS caps. Image credit: Three

"We need to stimulate real competition among mobile operators and guarantee fair roaming prices for EU consumers who are on holiday or travelling for work," Angelika Niebler, the liaison between the ITRE committee and the European Parliament, said in a statement.

The proposed rules, which set ceilings on prices for phone calls, SMS texts and data consumption, could be put to a vote by the European Parliament in April, ITRE said. Current laws expire in June and the new price limits would come in from July.

If passed, the legislation would provide a year-on-year reduction in the costs of data roaming when travelling abroad within the European Union until 2015, by which point the Commission hopes to pass legislation that will see cross-border roaming tariffs step into line with domestic prices.

Caps welcomed

"The committee's proposed data caps will pave the way for greater competition and lower consumer prices," Christian Salbaing, deputy chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Europe, which owns UK operator Three, said in a statement. "This proposal is a great result for smartphone and mobile data users across Europe. We urge the parliament to make these proposals a reality."

We need to stimulate real competition among mobile operators and guarantee fair roaming prices for EU consumers who are on holiday or travelling for work.
– Angelika Niebler, ITRE committee liaison

In February, Three sent an open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey, urging him to push for lower prices on data roaming and arguing the Commission's wholesale caps were still too high.

Campaigning group Europeans for Fair Roaming also welcomed the MEPs' move, even though the proposed legislation did not set the €0.11 per minute maximum for outbound calls it had pushed for, based on research by Berec.

"We welcome the newest decision by the European Parliament, even though they are not as courageous as we hoped," Bengt Beier, co-ordinator of Europeans for Fair Roaming, said in a statement.

ITRE-backed proposals

Under the ITRE-backed proposals, the maximum retail cost of outbound calls made abroad would drop to €0.25 (£0.21) per minute by July 2012, with incoming calls and text messages both falling to €0.08. Data roaming would top out at €0.50 per megabyte.

The caps would fall further in following years, with the cost of a phone call topping out at €0.15 per minute from July 2014, with incoming calls and texts at €0.05. Data would be capped at €0.20 per megabyte.

These price limits are much lower than those in the European Commission's existing Round III proposals, which propose €0.24 for calls made, €0.10 for calls received, €0.10 for SMS and €0.50 for data by 2014.

The ITRE proposals also recommend maximum price caps for data, phone and SMS services when sold wholesale, in an attempt to encourage telecoms providers to lower rates below the retail ceilings. As with the Commission's proposals, they would give customers the option from 1 March, 2014 to easily switch providers when roaming abroad, while keeping their domestic operator and phone number.

Domestic operators would also have to let their customers access roaming data services while abroad without having to unsubscribe from their existing data-roaming contract or arrangement, giving customers further choice.

The legislation was passed by an overwhelming majority of 55 votes for to five against and no abstentions in the ITRE committee.

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