Mobile phone users in Europe could enjoy cheaper calls made and received abroad as early as this summer, EU officials said yesterday, as the European Parliament was set to vote in favor of capping mobile phone roaming charges.
The landmark measure, which is all but certain to be backed by EU telecommunications ministers next month, should become binding on June 29, said German Economy Minister Joachim Wuermeling, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
Operators will then have one month to offer customers a new pricing structure with considerably cheaper roaming rates -- the extra charges added to the cost of a mobile phone call made or received abroad. Mobile phone users will have another two months to choose whether they want to go with the cheaper roaming or stick with their existing service contracts. After that, they will be put on the new tariff automatically.
EU Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Redding said this means proactive customers would be able to benefit from the capped rates in August.
"This is putting an end to the saga of excessive roaming charges. Customers up to now have been heavily overcharged when traveling abroad," she said.
A Maltese calling home from Latvia can end up paying as much as 11.21 euros (US$15.19) for a four-minute conversation. Under the new rules, the retail roaming cap will be set at 0.49 euro per minute for making a call abroad and 0.24 euro per minute for receiving one.
The price ceilings would drop further, to 0.43 euro for making calls abroad and 0.19 euro for receiving them, by 2009. The regulation will then lapse automatically, unless the EU decides to extend it.
"I hope very much this won't be necessary," Reding said.
The European Commission has long argued that operators are reaping massive, unjustified profits from high roaming charges. The caps will force them to slash the prices they charge consumers for making and receiving calls outside their home markets by up to 70 percent.
"The compromise we have today is necessary in terms of consumer protection. There was no way around this particular failure of the market. The consumer had no choice," Wuermeling said.
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