EU reveals plans to slash roaming charges

13 Jul 2006

The European Commission has tabled an ambitious plan to reduce the cost of using mobile phones overseas by as much as 70pc. Included in the plans is a proposal for a limit of 16.5 cents per minute, compared with the present situation whereby overseas calls can add up to €1.50 per minute.

The proposed directive will come into being if it gets backing from the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers.

The commission says it wants to ensure that prices paid by consumers for roaming services within the EU are not unjustifiably higher than those they pay for calling within their own country.

“We are tackling today one of the last borders within Europe’s internal market,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media. “For years, mobile roaming charges have remained at unjustifiably high levels, in spite of repeated warnings to the industry. This is why Europe needs to act now.

“I am convinced that reducing roaming charges will not only be beneficial for citizens travelling within the EU but will also enhance the competitiveness of Europe’s industry.

“Some 80pc of roaming customers are businesses and in particular small and medium sized companies suffer from this substantial cost factor when doing business within the internal market,” Reding added.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso described the directive as a practical application of Europe’s new results approach. “With our proposal today, consumers using mobile phone within the single market will get a fairer deal.”

Under the commission’s plan, wholesale charges that mobile operators charge each other for carrying calls from foreign networks will be capped.

The commission also proposes to introduce a price cap at retail level. Operators will be allowed to add to their wholesale cost a retail mark-up of 30pc.

The commission also proposes to enhance the transparency of roaming charges for customers with mobile operators obliged to provide customer with full information on applicable roaming charges when subscriptions are taken out and to update consumers about these charges.

National regulators will also be tasked to monitor closely the development of roaming charges fro SMS and multimedia messaging.

In Ireland, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources worked with their counterparts in Northern Ireland to remove contentious roaming charges between north and south as well as between Ireland and the UK. So far, O2, Vodafone and 3 Ireland have abolished roaming charges.

The north-south roaming charges were particularly contentious for those living in the border areas of Ireland insofar as consumers and businesses close to the border were paying extra for inadvertently roaming between networks.

The issue of cross-border roaming was also raised earlier this year during a visit to Brussels by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD. He cited the example of the arrangement between Ireland and the UK and argued that there was no technical reason why this could not be extended to the EU.

The European Commission’s initiative was welcomed last night by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey TD.

Dempsey commented: “Following close co-operation with my Northern Ireland counterpart and the regulators, three of the mobile companies in Ireland — O2, Vodafone and 3Ireland — have announced initiatives to abolish roaming charges for bill-paying customers and to reduce the charges in the case of pre-paid customers.”

He added: “We will study the detailed proposal and look forward to the negotiating a successful conclusion with our EU colleagues. Regarding the scope of the draft regulation, we believe it should address roaming charges for voice, data and SMS.

“The regulation should also ensure that pre-pay customers are treated no less favourably than post-paid customers,” Minister Dempsey said.

By John Kennedy