Cheaper rates part of EU plan to get rid of 'roaming rip-offs'


SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED roaming charges abroad for many mobile phone users will come into effect from tomorrow.

Roaming rates for accessing the internet on mobile phones will be set at a maximum of 86 cent per megabyte (MB), a reduction of more than 80 per cent for some mobile phone customers in Ireland. There will also be substantial reductions for making and receiving calls and texts.

The measures are part of an ongoing campaign by the European Commission and European Parliament to rein in telecoms companies, with the EU commissioner for digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, vowing to end the “roaming rip-offs once and for all in the EU”.

The commission estimates the average saving for a family travelling abroad will be €200, while business people who travel regularly abroad will save an average of €1,000 each per annum.

A commission spokeswoman said the ultimate goal of the changes would be the end of roaming charges across the EU.

She said roaming costs the mobile phone networks “almost nothing” and prices of more than €10 a MB from some operators were “made up as they went along”. She added: “They discovered this source of revenue which was not justified in terms of the cost it took to provide the service.

“They were charging what they thought the market could bear. The profit margin is multiples upon multiples of the cost for the mobile phone operator.”

The reduction to 86 cent per MB will only be in place for a year before it is reduced to 20 cent.

The changes are being heralded as a success for the EU in taking on the powerful mobile phone lobby.

The commission became alarmed in 2007 at the increasing incidences of “bill shock”, with smartphone customers finding themselves with four- and five-figure bills for accessing information such as Google Maps, Facebook and Twitter online.

Steps were taken last year to set a limit on mobile phone operators of €50, at which point they would have to inform a customer who was using their phone abroad that they had reached a limit.

That limit is being extended from tomorrow to outside the EU where mobile phone customers can be charged an unlimited amount for data roaming.

From tomorrow, the maximum cost of making a phone call in the EU will fall from 35 cent to 29 cent a minute. It will fall further to 19 cent a minute in 2014.

The maximum cost of receiving a call is 8 cent a minute, down from 11 cent a minute, a reduction of 27 per cent. It will fall to 5 cent in 2014. Sending a text is down from 11 cent to 9 cent and will be 6 cent in 2014.

Some of the major Irish mobile phone operators have already pre-empted the changes. Meteor has abolished roaming charges for calls and texts in Europe. Vodafone has a mobile internet tariff of €2 a day for 50MB of data, and O2 introduced the new rates on Wednesday to its billed customers.

From 2014, mobile phone operators will be able to compete with each other to allow customers to change to a cheaper roaming services provider while still using the same handset and number.