European Union member states and members of the European Parliament have reached a preliminary deal on cutting mobile roaming charges.
Under the deal, it would cost a maximum of 49 euro cents (£0.34, $0.66) to call home from another EU state, and 24 cents to receive a call. These caps would drop a little in 2008, and more in 2009.
If MEPs and European telecoms ministers formally back the deal the new prices could come into force over the summer. A vote is expected next Wednesday in the European Parliament, while telecoms ministers are due to consider the package on 7 June.
The European Commission warned the industry in 2004 that it was overcharging customers for roaming, and presented its plan to cap prices last year. Roaming in the EU can often cost one euro a minute. A Maltese calling home from Latvia can pay as much as 11.21 euros (£7.68) for a four-minute conversation.
The EU’s German presidency had pushed for price caps of 60 cents to make a call, and 30 cents to receive one. The European Parliament originally wanted caps of 40 cents and 15 cents.
“I hope this package can deliver for consumers this summer,” said Austrian MEP Paul Ruebig, who led the negotiations for the parliament.
British MEP Giles Chichester said he expected operators to compete with each other to be the first to offer the new rate. “I would be astonished if mobile operators do not take the hint,” he said.
Telephone companies will have one month from the time the regulation is published in the official journal – probably in mid-June – to offer customers the new pricing plan.
So consumers will be able to enjoy the new rates in mid-July if they reply to the offer promptly.
Three months after the regulation comes into force, consumers will be switched to the new rate automatically, unless they have deliberately chosen a different package. The price ceilings would drop in 2008 to 46 cents for making calls abroad and 22 cents for receiving them, the negotiators agreed. In 2009 they would drop further, to 43 cents and 19 cents respectively. After three years, the caps would be lifted.
The telecoms industry has warned that mobile phone users in Europe could face higher domestic charges, if roaming charges are forced down too much. “We’re disappointed. The price caps are very low, they leave no room for competition below those levels. They will become the standard tariff,” said David Pringle, spokesman for the GSM Association, which groups together Europe’s mobile phone operators.
He added that informing all customers of their tariff choices would be a “huge exercise in logistics”.