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Roaming charges in the EU are such a rip-off, many cross-border travellers simply switch off their phones when abroad.

These high charges are putting people off using their phones when away from home - and consumers want the EU to do something about it.

So says a new EuroBarometer survey, which found that European mobile phone users are paying between €4 and €6 for a four minute call abroad while roaming.

In some cases, prices for calls exceed €12 - an Irish customer in Malta could pay as much as €13.16 for a four-minute call home on their mobile.

Mobile phone owners admitted to researchers they used their phones less when abroad, particularly younger users and students. The overwhelming majority - 81 per cent - cited high costs as the biggest deterrent, while Polish and Slovenian users are most discouraged: 94 per cent of respondents from these countries said they slash their mobile use abroad.

More than two thirds of the nearly 25,000 EU citizens who took part in the survey - 70 per cent -- think the EU should intervene to make sure that roaming charges are not significantly more expensive than those at home.

Some 68 percent would support EU action to reduce SMS roaming charges, a figure that rises to 78 per cent among the 15-24 age group.

The prices are significantly affecting mobile use. About 15 per cent of mobile customers choose not to take their phones on holiday or switch them off completely, while 21 per cent use only text messages while abroad. However, 59 per cent of those surveyed say they would use their phones more when abroad if charges were lower.

"Excessively high prices restrict mobile usage while abroad. This hurts consumers, it hurts European industry, and it hurts Europe," said EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding.

"Reducing roaming prices is not only a political responsibility of the European Commission, but can also be an interesting business model, as demonstrated by some operators who have started to move in this direction in recent months with the introduction of special roaming packages."

Reding called on the mobile operators to help eliminate what she described as the "last visible border in Europe’s internal market".

"It is not acceptable that the burden of international mobile roaming continues to be shouldered by ordinary citizens who pay standard tariffs," she said.

Mobile networks in the EU have been warned repeatedly by the European Commission to reduce roaming charges within the EU, or face new regulations. The new legislation, which is currently being discussed in the European Parliament, would reduce charges for making and receiving calls abroad for both citizens and businesses, and benefit from enhanced competition among mobile operators. The rules could be in place by summer 2007.

In recent months, operators such as Three Ireland, Vodafone and O2 have abolished roaming charges between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, and some operators have introduced special packages for roaming abroad.

Three welcomed the European Commission's announcement that all mobile phone companies must reduce roaming charges across Europe. The group blames high retail roaming charges on the "unjustifiably high level" of wholesale international roaming rates.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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