EU politicians take a step toward abolishing roaming charges

Mobile texts, calls and downloading could be cheaper for travellers as early as 2015

The prospect of downloading data, sending text messages and making calls without incurring huge roaming charges while travelling in Europe came a step closer on Tuesday when politicians voted in favor of new legislation.

A call to end roaming fees by 2015 was unanimously approved by the European Parliament's Industry Committee on Tuesday.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) inserted text into the draft law saying that Europe's digital market still cannot be considered a level playing field because "artificial borders are maintained by mobile operators with the sole aim to increase their revenues."

"Unbalanced profit margins on roaming not only create excessive costs for users, but also hamper growth and prosperity," according to a committee statement.

According to the annual E-Communications Household Survey published last week, half the population in the E.U. limits international and roaming calls because of price concerns.

"Mobile services are an essential part of daily life. It's not acceptable for half the population to be limiting their phone calls because of cost issues, and it's not acceptable that the lack of a connected single market encourages those limitations," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

"We must ensure that people are no longer afraid to use their mobile phones to make calls or download data when abroad. India and the United States have already abolished roaming fees, and it is high time for the E.U. to do likewise," said the politician charged with steering the draft law through the committee, Jens Rohde.

The committee also noted that many E.U. member states missed the Jan. 1 deadline to allocate the 800MHz band to mobile broadband services, and that this delay has hampered the roll-out of 4G networks. One resolution calls on the European Commission to use its full powers to ensure a swift implementation of the 800MHz allocation and open up the 700MHz band for mobile broadband services on a pan-European basis as well.

Roaming accounts for about 10 percent of many E.U. operators' revenue and the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) calculates that on average, industry and private users pay double what operators pay on the wholesale market for roaming calls.

The current roaming regulation, which was first proposed in July 2011, places caps on mobile data-roaming rates until June 30, 2017, with a new lower rate coming into force from July 2014. After July 2014, the cost of a text message between E.U. countries will be no more than €0.06 and the cost of downloading from the Internet on a mobile in another E.U. country would be no more than €0.20 per megabyte.

The draft law will be voted on by the Parliament as a whole in September and will be discussed by the member states at a summit in October.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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