In a boost to consumers and a blow to telcos, the EU will cap the amount carriers can charge users for mobile data when they're traveling around Europe
From July 2009, the wholesale per-megabyte rate for roaming mobile-data use across Europe will be capped at €1 plus VAT.
Announced on Tuesday, the new cap is an informal compromise that was agreed between the Industry Committee of the European Parliament and the Czech Presidency of the European Council. It potentially means customers will be charged less than they are now for using mobile data while abroad in other European countries – currently, some operators charge more than £5 per megabyte for such usage.
The wholesale rate for mobile data roaming refers to the amount Operator A can charge Operator B when B's customer uses mobile data on A's network. The European Commission originally proposed the €1-per-megabyte limit for such charges but earlier this month the Industry Committee of the European Parliament said it wanted the per-megabyte cap to be lower, at 50 cents.
In the compromise deal, the €1-per-megabyte cap will apply from 1 July this year, but one year later, that cap will drop to 80 cents, and on 1 July 2011 the 50 cents cap will come into force.
To come into force, this deal still has to be backed by the whole European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. A first-reading plenary vote will take place between 21 and 24 April.
MEP Adina-Ioana V?lean said in a statement: "I am pleased that today we have made an important step towards reaching an agreement that strikes a balance between the interests of all the stakeholders involved in the proposed roaming regulation.
"I am hopeful that all parties will endorse a concrete first-reading agreement so that European consumers can fully benefit from this new regulation by the beginning of this summer."
The compromise deal does not just cover data roaming but also voice calls and text messages – these caps, however, are retail rather than wholesale, so they represent the maximum amount the end-customer can be charged.
Roaming voice-call charges were already capped in 2007, with that cap being lowered to 46 cents per minute last August. On 1 July this year, that cap will drop further to 43 cents per minute; one year later it will reach 39 cents per minute; and from 1 July, 2011 it will be 35 cents per minute. Roaming text-message charges will be capped, from 1 July this year, at 11 cents per SMS.
Another part of the agreement covers the prevention of so-called 'bill shock', an industry term that refers to the surprise some customers experience when seeing their mobile-phone bills after travelling.
From 1 March, 2010, customers must be able to opt for a maximum financial limit for their expenditure while roaming, and their mobile operator must warn them when they reach 80 per cent of that limit. If they have not opted into this limit by 1 July, 2010, the compromise agreement states, they will automatically be given a limit of €50, excluding VAT.