EU plans to cap mobile roaming rates face key vote

EU consumers will be a major step closer towards cheaper cross-border mobile phone calls if EU lawmakers approve on Wednesday as expected legislation forcing operators to cut so-called roaming rates.

After more than a year in the works, plans to cap roaming rates come before the European Parliament in a key vote that could lift a major hurdle to the reform going into effect.

If approved by the parliament, the plan then needs only to be rubberstamped by EU telecommunications ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on June 7.

On Monday, the parliament’s industry panel already backed the plans, giving a strong indication of how the wider parliament will vote when the regulations come up for consideration around midday (1000 GMT) in a Strasbourg plenary session.

Under a compromise thrashed out earlier this month between representatives of the parliament and member states, roaming charges would be regulated for three years in the hope that afterwards there would be stronger competition.

The plans would cap the price of making cross-border calls within the EU at 49 euro cents (66 US cents) a minute in the first year of application while receiving a call could cost no more than 24 cents.

The ceiling for roaming services would then come down even lower in the second year, falling to 46 and 22 cents and then 43 and 19 cents in the third year.

The European Commission drew up the plans to regulate roaming rates last year after it found evidence of huge variations between operators’ prices, with some roaming calls costing up to six times those of local mobile calls.

The package has the industry, which argues that fierce competition has already driven down prices, up in arms and it has been lobbying hard to get the plans watered down.

Meanwhile, consumer protection associations are also upset that the regulations do not go far enough, arguing that the ceiling should be brought even lower.

Although the new regulations could go into effect as soon as mid-July, mobile phone users will likely not be able to benefit from the new rates until after the end of summer or early autumn.

The Commission had hoped that the new rates would be in place by the European summer holidays.

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EU plans to cap mobile roaming rates face key vote