Cheaper prices for texting and mobile data services abroad in summer 2009

The European Commission has proposed to reduce the price of roaming text messages by 60% as of 1 July 2009. EU citizens travelling in other EU countries should pay no more than €0.11 per SMS compared to the current EU average of €0.29. The Commission also wants to improve transparency for surfing the web and downloading data on a mobile phone while abroad. The proposals will now be submitted to the European Parliament and Council, who must agree before they become law.

Text messaging is universally popular among EU citizens who, in 2007, sent 2.5 billion SMS worth €800 million. It is particularly the young generation that communicates via SMS: 38% of the 15-24 year olds only text when abroad. But the cost of roaming texts can be ten times more than domestic texts and as high as €0.75 per SMS, for travellers from Belgium. Besides, there are important  disparities in roaming tariffs between different Member States.

The Commission therefore proposes a retail cap of €0.11 on roaming text messages (excluding VAT), combined with a €0.04 cap at wholesale level. Wholesale prices are charged by one operator to another for a customer to send a message between their networks. Operators are encouraged to compete below these maximum price caps, set by the Commission after a detailed impact assessment with input from the European Regulators Group (ERG).

Roaming customers should also receive an automatic message with data roaming charges for the country they have entered, acting to reduce "bill shocks" that can run to thousands of Euro. From summer 2010, consumers should be able to specify in advance how high their data roaming bill can go before the service is cut off.

The Commission wants price caps for roaming phone calls, which were reduced earlier this year to the current ceilings of €0.46 for calls made abroad and €0.22 for calls received abroad, even more reduced to €0.34 for calls made abroad and to €0.10 for calls received abroad by 1 July 2012 (excluding VAT). Consumers would also benefit from per-second billing after 30 seconds for roaming calls made and per-second billing throughout calls received. Today, they pay 24% more than the minutes they use to make calls, and 19% more for received calls.

As José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, highlighted, “Europe, through its GSM standard, made mobile telephony attractive across the globe. It is now time to demonstrate that there is a truly single telecoms market in which consumers can use their mobile phone in all 27 EU countries without being punished when crossing a border."

Following a specific request of the European Parliament and Council, the EU Roaming Regulation requires the Commission to review the development of roaming calls, text messages and data services in 2008 and propose an extension if needed. In June 2008, a study showed that high prices (typically ranging from €5 to €10 per megabyte) and a lack of transparency were slowing the take up of data roaming services in the EU. This encouraged the Commission to take measures to ensure that consumers benefit from a truly single market for mobile text services.