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The ministers of the 27 EU Member States this week formally adopted the new EU roaming rules proposed by the European Commission last September. The new EU roaming rules are intended to lead to further reductions of up to 60 percent on consumers' roaming bills starting July 1.
Roaming is whenever you travel abroad and make or receive a cellphone call, send text messages (SMS - Short Message Services) or download data (for electronic mail, surfing the Web, photos, music, films) from the Internet using a mobile connection.
You are roaming on a mobile network of a foreign network operator because your home provider does not provide the service in the country in which you are traveling. For providing this service, the foreign network operator will charge your home operator. This charge, known as the wholesale charge, is passed on to you at a different rate, sometimes at a surprisingly high level for the consumer.
The new EU Roaming Regulation makes sure that consumers do not pay more than â‚¬0.11 (excluding VAT) for sending a text message while abroad in the EU. Consumers will also be able to surf the Web, download movies or send holiday pictures with their mobile without experiencing "bill shocks" back home for having roamed this summer. Under the new rules, mobile operators must also bill their customers for roaming calls by the second after the first 30 seconds, instead of on a per-minute basis,which is expected to cut phone bills by as much as 24%.
With this week's adoption by the Council, the final step in the approval process has been taken, which will enable the president of the European Parliament and the Council Presidency to formally sign the Regulation on June 18. It can then be published in the EU's Official Journal a few days later. As the new roaming rules are included in an EU Regulation, they are will become effective immediately on July 1 in all 27 EU Member States.
The new EU roaming rules formally approved by the Council will cap the price that consumers can be charged for sending a text message while abroad at â‚¬0.11 (excluding VAT ), compared with a current average of â‚¬0.28 (with customers from the Netherlands and Portugal paying more than â‚¬0.35 for each roamed SMS).
The new rules are also supposed to reduce data roaming charges (the cost of surfing the Web or downloading movies with a cellphone while abroad) by introducing a wholesale cap of â‚¬1 per megabyte downloaded, compared with an average EU wholesale price of 1.68 per megabyte, with peaks in Ireland (â‚¬6.82), Greece (â‚¬5.30) and Estonia (â‚¬5.10). The wholesale price cap should fall to â‚¬0.80 in 2010 and to â‚¬0.50 in 2011, and should lead to further cuts in customers' bills.
The EU Roaming Regulation that entered into force on June 30, 2007, introduced limits to the wholesale and retail charges for roaming voice calls to ensure the proper functioning of the single market and a high level of consumer protection.
The Commission had initially hoped that competition would play a role in the roaming market and that mobile operators would demonstrate their willingness to voluntarily reduce the very high roaming charges for text messages and data.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the international department at GSCB Law Firm.