‘International roaming’ enables consumers to use their mobile phones when they travel abroad. Foreign networks agree to provide mobile network services to the customers of the domestic networks in exchange for a fee which is passed on to the consumer. Roaming charges were high and continued to rise until the European legislature took action, reducing fees by a colossal 80-90% since 2007.

The European Commission recently announced that the price caps for mobile data roaming will be slashed again by more than half from 1 July 2014 in all EU Member States. The Commission also confirmed that voice calls and text messages would become cheaper.

Background

Following a series of price increases, the European Commission introduced a cap on roaming prices for mobile calls within the Community via the 2007 Roaming Regulation (EC) 717/2007 and the amending Framework Directive.

Roaming charges were further reduced by approximately 60% when a 2009 Regulation, (EC) 544/2009, came into force, which set reduced caps for retail customers sending texts, using mobile data, and making and receiving calls abroad. It also introduced ‘bill shock’ provisions, to prevent customers returning home to unexpectedly large bills after travelling abroad. Roaming fees were subject to an automatic limit of €50 or any other amount set by the customer. Network operators had to warn the user when they reached 80% of their limit, and again when they reached the full amount, at which point the user had to confirm he wanted to continue roaming.

The 2009 Regulation was replaced in 2012 by Regulation (EU) 531/2012 which enabled consumers to sign up for separate contracts for mobile roaming in addition to their domestic contracts from 1 July 2014. A retail price cap for mobile data services was also introduced and mobile network operators could use networks in other Member States for regulated wholesale prices. It also provided for the price limit for calls and wholesale price caps to be progressively reduced and maintained ‘bill shock’ provisions.

In September 2013, the Commission proposed further significant reforms, as part of the Connected Continent Regulation. The proposals included measures to reduce prices for the consumer, remove red tape for companies, and introduce new rights and measures to benefit consumers and service providers. Mobile networks would be required to cease roaming fees for receiving calls by July 2014, but perhaps most significantly, the Connected Continent Regulation would eliminate roaming charges altogether, to provide “guaranteed open and neutral internet, and better consumer protection for mobile and broadband users.

In April 2014, the European Parliament voted to remove international roaming charges for voice calls, text messages and data throughout the EU from 15 December 2015, with capped charges imposed only if roaming services are ‘abused’.

European Commission Press Release of 24 June 2014

The latest announcement from the Commission confirms further savings for consumers, including cheaper voice calls and text messages, and the reduction of mobile data roaming caps by more than half (see full text here). Consumers will also be able to compare roaming offers and select the provider with the best price/offer in the EU Member State they are visiting.

The price cuts are great news for holidaymakers and frequent travellers within the EU, who will benefit from cheaper data roaming prices when surfing the internet, checking emails and uploading the all-important beach ‘selfie’ to social networks. The impact of the price caps is particularly well demonstrated by the Commission’s timely observation that travelling football fans in the EU will pay 25 times less for data roaming as compared to the last World Cup in 2010!

Despite past concerns raised by leading mobile operators and the Body for European Regulators for Electronic Communications, the Commission also noted that data consumption has risen dramatically since the introduction of data roaming caps by the EU.

Vice President of the Commission, Neelie Kroes, commented: "This huge drop in data roaming prices will make a big difference to all of us this summer. But it is not enough. Why should we have roaming charges at all in a single market? By the end of this year I hope we see the complete end of roaming charges agreed – the Parliament has done their part, now it is up to Member States to seal the deal!"