EU to slash roaming rates

After much debate, European lawmakers finally voted in favour of proposals to cap mobile roaming charges in Europe. The European Parliament, in its plenary session in Strasbourg, voted with a strong majority in favour of regulation on Wednesday night. But while mobile roaming charges will now fall by as much as 70 per cent, the law could come into force too late to benefit European holidaymakers this year. A June 7 meeting of the 27 Member States’ telecoms ministers will formally ratify the ‘Eurotariff’ agreement. But the legislation is not likely to come into play until mid-July at the earliest, after many European have already taken their summer holidays. According to the legislation the maximum retail charge, excluding VAT, for regulated roaming calls will be capped at Eur0.49 per minute for outgoing calls and Eur0.24 per minute for incoming calls. The cap for outgoing calls will also decrease automatically by Eur0.03 per year over the following two years, while the cap for incoming calls will decrease by Eur0.02 after the first year and Eur0.03 after the second year.Under the plans, subscribers will receive a text message telling them how much they will have to pay when travelling abroad, while an opt-in clause will ensure that customers who have already chosen alternative roaming packages are not moved onto the Eurotariff automatically.Operators have three months from the introduction of the Eurotariff to move all customers who have not made a choice onto the new EU tariff.Arun Sarin, chief executive of Vodafone, claims that the Vodafone Passport tariff, “which already offers a better deal than the Eurotariff,” has attracted over 12 million customers.But EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding maintains that while some operators offer roaming packages, they are not widely taken up. “Lack of consumer awareness, complexity and often the need to subscribe to such packages can all be reasons for the low subscriber numbers,” she said. According to last November’s Eurobarometer survey on roaming, 15 per cent of mobile users either do not to take their phones on holiday at all or switch them off and 21 per cent only send text messages abroad. “When asked why they do not use their phone abroad, 81 per cent said the high costs were the biggest deterrent. However, 59 per cent would use their phones more when abroad if charges were lower,” said Reding. The price of SMS messages and data charges are not affected by the Eurotariff legislation. Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association (GSMA), argues that the regulation is unnecessary because operators are already delivering good value to consumers on roaming services. “The average cost of making and receiving calls while travelling in Europe is now 29 per cent lower than during 2005, according to the European mobile phone industry’s roaming Retail Price Index,” he said.The GSMA believes the regulation could present practical difficulties for some operators, such as the obligation to contact all their customers within one month of the regulation coming into force, and the obligation to move their customers on to new tariff packages in the timeframe proposed. “These proposals are designed to further a narrow, short-term and populist agenda and run counter to the wider interests of consumers, the business community and ultimately the European Union,” Conway said. Informa Telecoms & Media’s Mobile Roaming Europe conference will take place in Vienna, Austria from 29-31 October 2007. Read more about the Mobile Roaming Europe Conference.

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