Consumers have moved one step closer to paying for cheaper data and phone calls while abroad, after a deal was provisionally approved by MEPs.
The proposals, which would see a ceiling for data roaming implemented for the first time, still need to go in front of the European Parliament. If approved, the new rules will take effect in July. As well as the price cuts, the Commission has also voted for consumers to be able to buy roaming services from rival operators from 2014. Their existing operator will have to inform them of this right and the cost of switching must be free of charge.
The proposals, first made in February, prompted an angry reaction from operators, aside from Three's parent company Hutchison Whampoa. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao got into a spat with EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes when he called for a 'moratorium on regulation'. Operators have argued these roaming charges help fund investment in their businesses and ultimately help the consumer.
The proposals for roaming costs have increased from the original mooted charges. According to the deal, a downloaded megabyte will cost no more than 70 cents from July 2012, 45 cents in July 2013 and 20 cents in July 2014. There is currently no price ceiling for data services. The cost of making a call abroad will fall from its current rate of 35 cents per minute to 29 cents from July 2012, 24 cents from July 2013 and 19 cents from July 2014. The cost of messaging will fall from 11 cents to six cents by July 2014.
MEP Angelika Niebler said: 'The proposed price caps ensure a sufficient margin between wholesale and retail prices to assure a level of competition that will enable new players to enter the market. Parliament succeeded in its call for cheaper data roaming for customers. This agreement increase transparency and consumer protection to prevent bill shocks, so that EU consumers no longer need to worry about accidentally running up huge bills when using their mobile devices both within and outside the EU.'
A spokesman for Three said: 'This move by EU policy makers is great news for consumers and will help end the gulf that exists between what people pay at home and what they pay when they are abroad in Europe.'
Editor: Graeme Neill