Members of the European Parliament have voted in favour of introducing lower price-caps on the cost of using a mobile phone abroad in the European Union.
The influential cross-party industry, research and energy committee voted to start negotiations with EU member states as soon as possible, with the aim of coming to an agreement by the summer.
It will be the third time that the EU has brought in laws capping the cost of mobile ‘roaming’ and will replace the current rules that expire at the end of June.
The MEPs backed a report drawn up by Angelika Niebler, a German centre-right MEP, which put forward detailed price-limit proposals for calls, text messages and mobile internet use that go far beyond the European Commission’s original plan.
The Parliament also backed rules which would allow people going abroad to buy packages from mobile companies separate from the one they use at home but to still keep their normal phone number.
Stimulating ‘real competition’
“We need to stimulate real competition among mobile operators and guarantee fair roaming prices for EU consumers who are on holiday or travelling for work,” Niebler said.
However, the committee did not support attempts made by centre-left MEPs to take the price-capping even further. Some want the difference between using a mobile phone at home and in other EU member states to be eliminated completely.
The Parliament and member states must come to agreement before the price caps can become law. Many member states are wary about such low price-caps and formal negotiations are expected to begin a week tomorrow (7 March).
Under the Parliament’s plan, the cost of a call would be no more than 25 cents per minute to make a call and 8 cents per minute to receive. This is much cheaper than the Commission proposal of 32 cents and 11 cents respectively. After July 2014, it would be 15 cents to call and 5 cents to receive.
The costs of a text message sent in another EU country would be no more than 8 cents, and 5 cents from July 2014.
MEPs also voted to limit the cost of downloading from the internet on a mobile in another EU country to 50 cents per megabyte and 20 cents from July 2014.
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This would be the first time a cap has been placed on the retail price of data downloads. The Commission had proposed a 90 cent cap, decreasing to 50 cents.
MEPs also want the new law to allow new firms which do not own a part of the mobile spectrum, so-called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), to be able to access the market and compete for customers against traditional customers.
The Commission sees this type of structural change to be more of a long-term solution than price-capping.
Robert Goebbels, a centre-left MEP from Luxembourg, said that he was disappointed with the vote because it showed that MEPs and the Commission, did “not have the stomach to fight for a single market” in mobile communications.
“At least this agreement will bring a temporary solution to the high cost of using mobile phones and other devices when travelling in the EU,” he said.
He said he was satisfied that MEPs voted to include a statement that if by 2016 roaming prices had not come down to domestic levels, then the Commission would be obliged to propose additional legislation.