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EU mobile biz barons agree to slash roaming charges

Brussels strikes cheaper deal with operators

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Mobile phone operators in Europe will be forced to cap prices for roaming charges when customers use their devices abroad, Brussels' officials confirmed today.

A preliminary deal was struck between members of the European parliament, council representatives and the European Commission on bringing in rules across the 27-state bloc.

The agreement is expected to be approved in the next few months, which should lead to the new rules coming into force on 1 July 2012, just in time for most Europeans who've booked their bucket'n'spade ollibobs.

Brussels commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, said the deal would create more competition in the roaming market.

“Consumers are fed up with being ripped off by high roaming charges. The new roaming deal gives us a long-term structural solution, with lower prices, more choice and a new smart approach for data and internet browsing," she said.

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"The benefits will be felt in time for the summer break – and by summer 2014, people can shop around for the best deal."

Comedy bills racked up by tourists from the EU taking their holidays in other parts of Europe have regularly hit the headlines with some UK customers having faced crippling repayments of thousands of pounds to mobile operators, after they were caught out by high roaming charges.

The new rules mean that punters will pay no more than 29 cents (24p) per minute to make a call and 70 cents (59p) per megabyte for data downloads throughout Europe when using their phones to make calls or browse the interwebs.

Come July 2014, customers will be able to shop around for the best deal and sign up for a separate mobile contract for roaming, the EC said. They can also expect to retain the same number under both contracts.

From July this year so-called virtual mobile outfits (MVNOs) and resellers who do not have their own networks will gain access to other operators networks at regulated wholesale prices.

A price cap will effectively be in place until competition between operators kicks in. The EC said customers will be safeguarded by that price cap until 30 June 2017.

It reckoned that by July 2014 punters won't be paying more than 19 cents per minute to make a call, a maximum 5 cents per minute to receive a call, a maximum 6 cents to send a text message and maximum 20 cents per megabyte to download data or browse the internet while travelling abroad.

The EC added that it would also provide warning messages about roaming charges outside of the EU when they are nearing data downloads usage of €50 or their pre-agreed level to help individuals avoid "bill shocks" when using their mobile devices abroad.

Lobby group Europeans for Fair Roaming, run by Bengt Beier, welcomed the deal.

Beier said: “I am happy about this compromise. While we would have hoped for a faster reduction in prices so that consumers could enjoy lower prices this year, it is great to hear that the EU will continue its push for low prices for roaming.

"For a short time it looked like some governments were more interested in corporate interests than in consumer-friendly prices. But the deal struck will not only prevent consumers from suffering high prices but will also help the European economy in general.” ®

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