Mobile phone roaming charges are expected to be cut from July - the latest move towards reducing the gap between domestic and foreign call rates to almost nothing by 2015.
Compulsory maximum roaming rates were first imposed on mobile network operators five years ago to tackle what the European Commission called the "roaming rip-off" - the operators were said to be making profits of more than 200 per cent for mobile calls made while in another EU country, and 300 per cent or 400 per cent for calls received.
Today the gap between domestic and "roaming" call charges has fallen by about 75 per cent compared with 2007.
Now, after talks between MEPs, EU governments and the European Commission, final agreement is expected in May for further cuts to come into force from July this year.
EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, who took on the sector when calls for voluntary reductions were considered not good enough, said this afternoon: "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. The benefits will be felt in time for the summer break - and by summer 2014, people can shop around for the best deal."
Kroes voiced frustration earlier this year at the fact that all operators are sticking to the high end of the call charges ceilings, effectively blocking wider competition which should drive down prices even further.
The Commission said today that, until competition does reduce retail prices even further than the rates imposed by EU law, the roaming rules will progressively lower current retail price caps on voice and texting (SMS) services, with a new retail price cap for mobile data services. The caps will stay in force as "a safeguard for consumers" until June 2017.
Under the new rules applicable from July this year, consumers travelling in another EU country than their own will pay no more than:
- 29 euro cents (24 pence) per minute to make a mobile call;
- 8 cents (7p) to receive a call;
- 9 cents (8p) to send a text message;
- 70 cents per megabyte (58p) to download data or browse the internet whilst travelling abroad, charged per kilobyte used.
A Commission statement said: "These regulated price caps will progressively go down so that by July 1 2014, roaming consumers will be paying no more than 19 cents per minute to make a call, a maximum 5 cents per minute to receive a call, maximum 6 cents to send a text message and maximum 20 cents per Megabyte to download data or browse the Internet whilst travelling abroad".