Europe cuts roaming charges, plans to eliminate them by end of next year

Data roaming charges for EU subscribers will be cut by as much as 55 percent on Tuesday

More European mobile operators should offer free international roaming, following the example set by U.S. operator T-Mobile, a European Commission vice president said Monday.

After enforcing a series of reductions in voice and data roaming charges across the European Union over the last four years, the latest round of which takes effect Tuesday, Neelie Kroes is ready to take the ultimate step of abolishing roaming charges entirely by late 2015. She hopes to win the support of national telecommunications ministers for that by the end of this year.

From Tuesday, European mobile roamers will see a big cut in the cost of roaming, with data charges dropping 55 percent or more compared to last summer.

"In 2014 we can finally say that the telco sector is getting the message about roaming," Kroes said, adding that many companies are bringing in prices and plans below the price ceiling set by the Commission.

In at least six EU member states, consumers can choose mobile phone plans where roaming fees have been removed entirely, Kroes said, but went on to say that this is not enough. "It is still ridiculous in my opinion that companies in the U.S. give their customers free roaming to more than 100 countries including the EU, but European customers are still not enjoying the same opportunity," she said. Last October, U.S. operator T-Mobile introduced free data roaming in over 100 countries for customers on a Simple Choice Plan costing US$50/month or more. Calls made while roaming still cost $0.20 per minute.

While Kroes is confident that roaming fees will be gone forever by Christmas 2015, the fight continues, she said. "Now it is up to national governments to support what the overwhelming majority of Europeans want: a 100 percent end to roaming fees once and for all," she said.

Operators will not lose out on profits, while consumers will see no increase in prices elsewhere, Kroes said. Cutting roaming prices will lead travellers to make more use of mobile phones when abroad; resulting in more revenue for operators than before the roaming price caps were introduced, she added.

Kroes also dismissed fears that the cuts would limit operator investment in new services. Roaming is only a small part of operator's incomes and income generated through roaming has so far not been used for investments, she said.

With the price cuts due to take effect Tuesday, data roaming prices have dropped 95 percent since 2010, Kroes said. Calls and text messages will also be at least 20 percent cheaper, she said.

With the new roaming price caps, operators are allowed to charge €0.20 per megabyte, down from €0.45 per MB in 2013. Making a call abroad can cost no more than €0.19 per minute, down from a maximum of €0.24 last year, while sending a text message became €0.02 cheaper and now costs €0.06.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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