EU outlaws rip-off mobile phone charges for using networks abroad

RIP-OFF call charges for using mobile phones abroad are to be cut under a new plan that was unveiled by European Union officials yesterday.

An EU commissioner, Viviane Reding, pledged to outlaw excessive roaming charges after the mobile phone industry failed to bring down prices in the wake of a warning last year.

Ms Reding said she had lost patience with the industry, which was continuing to rip off holiday-makers and business travellers who used their mobile phones in other countries.

"We still have overpricing that bears no relation to real costs," she said. "This is a very heavy weight on people who travel - business travellers, students, tourists. We tell them to take advantage of the common market, but then they are punished if they do so because they have to pay."

Under the new proposal, mobile phone users would no longer be charged to receive a call when abroad.

Ms Reding said mobile companies currently generated "pure profit" by charging travellers for receiving a call when they are away. A British customer in Spain has to pay for a call to his message service even if the phone is switched off.

In addition, the EU plans will mean travellers will only have to pay the cost of a local call - at home rates - when they ring for a taxi on holiday in Barcelona, and only face international charges to call home.

Ms Reding said if the European Parliament and national governments agreed quickly to the new measures, consumers could already see the financial benefits by summer 2007.

Ms Reding's campaign was boosted at an EU summit last week by a pledge from European leaders to pursue the elimination or reduction of roaming charges across the 25 nations. Roaming tariffs are currently set by a deal between two mobile operators in different countries, where one buys wholesale roaming packages from another.

But evidence gathered by regulators and the Commission shows that, while costs have plummeted between mobile companies, this reduction has not been passed on to travellers, who are still charged heavily for making or receiving calls abroad.

In September, the Commission launched a public website where mobile users can compare the prices of networks abroad.

Updated figures released yesterday showed that there had been little change to the overcharging of consumers, despite EU warnings to cut costs. In some cases, prices had even gone up over the last six months.

The new figures show that O2 customers on a four-minute call home from Italy were charged 2.38 in September last year, which had risen by the start of this month to 3.40.

Vodafone users paid the highest tariff in both periods at 4.02.

For four-minute calls being received from the UK when the customer was in Italy, an O2 user was charged 1.15 in September, but 3.80 by the start of this month.

Vodafone users paid 3.04 in both months.

Industry group, the GSM Association, insisted last week that a new law was not needed because prices were already falling.

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