EU slashes cost of text messaging, surfing while abroad

Price cuts will take effect as Europeans head abroad for their summer holidays

The cost of sending text messages on your mobile phone while abroad in the European Union is about to fall sharply in July, when a new law approved Wednesday comes into effect.

Similarly, the price of Internet downloads onto your mobile while you are travelling in the E.U. will drop, and calls made from abroad will be charged per second, rather than per minute.

Currently European consumers are paying as up 24 percent too much because their calls are rounded up to the nearest minute, according to the European Commission, the regulatory and executive branch of the E.U.

The European Parliament rubber-stamped the update of roaming laws Wednesday at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg.

A text message sent from abroad in the E.U. will cost no more than EUR0.11 (US$0.15) from July 1, instead of EUR0.28 today, the European Commission said in a statement.

The vote means the new rules will be in place in time for summer holidays, the Commission said. The new law also cuts the price of mobile phone calls while roaming in another E.U. country. The present cap for a mobile phone call made abroad will progressively drop from EUR0.46 to EUR0.35 per minute by July 2011, and from EUR0.22 today to EUR0.11 for mobile calls received while roaming abroad.

Mobile operators will also be required to bill roaming calls by the second from the 31st second at the latest.

"Today's vote marks the definite end of the roaming ripoff in Europe," said E.U. Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.

The new E.U. roaming rules in a nutshell: the price that consumers can be charged for sending a text message while abroad will be capped at EUR0.11 (excluding VAT), compared to a current average of EUR0.28.

Data roaming charges are substantially reduced (the cost of surfing the Web or downloading movies with a mobile phone while abroad) by introducing a wholesale cap of EUR1 per megabyte downloaded, compared to an average wholesale price of EUR 1.68 per megabyte, with peaks in Ireland (EUR6.82), Greece (EUR5.30) and in Estonia (EUR5.10).

The wholesale cap will fall to EUR0.80 in 2010 and to EUR0.50 in 2011.

Consumers will be protected from so-called "bill shocks" by allowing customers to choose a cut-off mechanism once the bill reaches EUR50, unless the consumer opts for a higher limit. Operators will have until March 2010 to put these transparency measures in place.

Reduced price caps for mobile roaming calls. Now at EUR0.46 for calls made and EUR0.22 for calls received abroad, the caps will go down to EUR0.43 for calls made and EUR0.19 for calls received abroad on July 1; to EUR0.39 and EUR0.15 on July 1, 2010; and to EUR0.35 and EUR0.11 by July 1, 2011 (all prices per minute, excluding VAT).

Per-second billing after the first 30 seconds for roamed calls made and from the first second for calls received while abroad.

The E.U. roaming Web site offers an overview of current roaming tariffs per country.

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