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Cheaper calling next year, probably

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The EU's Industry Committee has voted to agree the Commission's proposed cap on calls home of €.40 a minute, and €.11 for text messages, but has undercut the Commission in asking for per-second billing and data rates of €.50/MB wholesale.

The Industry Committee is made up of MEPs, and it is the Committee that takes recommendations from the Commission to the Parliament where they can become EU law, often amending them on the way. In this instance the price of calls and texts remains as proposed by the Commission, but the rate for wholesale data is lowered and per-second billing is extended to the very start of the call.

The caps on roaming costs within the EU are intended to drift downwards over time, and the proposals from the EU Commission are part of that process, but didn't go far enough for the MEPs of the Committee. The Commission recommended per-second billing for roaming calls within Europe after the first 30 seconds, and a wholesale data rate of €1/MB. The Industry Committee has amended that to a proposal for wholesale data cap of €.50, and per-second billing from the outset. That data rate is what operators charge each other, but should be reflected in lower bills for anyone travelling within the EU.

The Committee did endorse the Commission's recommendation that the price of voice calls should drop to €.40 per minute, by July 2010, with incoming calls costing no more than €.16. The cap on text messaging, at €.11, should come in a year earlier - at the end of June 2009. But calls from the Commission that regulation should be extended into 2013 were rejected by the Committee that reckons the EU should step back a bit and let the industry compete for a while.

The Commission also recommended a compulsory limit on spending while roaming - so operators would have to cut a connection before the bill rises beyond a specified level. The MEPs of the Committee felt that on-screen warnings and/or text messages would serve, with some sort of authorising action necessary to avoid data being cut off at €50.

The Committee also chucked voicemail into the mix - specifying that operators won't be allowed to pay to collect voicemail while roaming, after July 2010.

These proposals now have to go to through informal negotiations, to ensure they aren't shot down when presented to parliament. The results of those negotiations are voted by the Committee at the end of March, and the final proposal will appear before the Parliament around the end of April, after which we should be on track of cheaper phone calls, as long as we don't venture outside the EU.

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