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Data Roaming: The European Commission's Proposals are a Disgrace

Posted: 28/02/2012 00:00

MEPs will vote today on new mobile roaming regulations, which have the potential to turn back the clock on our mobile phone technology by 10 years, as they make it too expensive to access the internet while abroad.

We all welcomed the government's commitment to force Europe to reduce roaming charges and prices are coming down for texts and voice calls, but there is a potential disaster rushing our way as the Commission has proposed new regulations to cap the cost of using the internet on our mobiles when any of us travel in Europe.

This sounds like a great idea, but they have proposed capping wholesale charges at €100 for one gigabyte of data and retail rates up to five times the wholesale rate, which would mean consumers paying upwards of €500, approximately £420, for 1GB compared with paying under £10 for 1GB at home. This is plainly ridiculous and goes against the European Commission's commitment to reduce the difference between domestic and roaming data usage prices.

The real danger is the European Commission have just investigated this market and issued a report accepting that most customers have to pay prices near the cap, so this will bring a halt to nearly 10 years of technological advances, as customers can no longer afford to use their mobile phone abroad.

Just think how often we use our smartphones every single day, checking emails, getting directions, uploading photos, using the internet and updating Facebook or Twitter - we are used to having information at our fingertips. Luckily in the UK, competition between the four mobile phone operators means that the mobile internet is largely affordable. However, this stops being the case as soon as you touchdown in another country and I, along with millions of others, will now have to ration my mobile internet usage even further, or not use it at all.

I welcomed it when the EU Digital Agenda Commissioner announced that she wanted to harmonise domestic and roaming prices for mobile data, but a year on the proposals have failed to live up to the promises. In fact at €500 a GB, the phone bill will probably cost more than most people's holidays!

Fortunately for consumers there is already a cap on how much you can spend while roaming, so when you spend €50 you're blocked for making any more calls, texts or accessing the internet. But this feels like bad regulation to me. Rather than stopping people doing what they want, the regulations should reduce prices for consumers and boost competition amongst operators. At present, mobile operators who only operate in a couple of countries find it hard to negotiate low wholesale rates, whilst the bigger operators with companies in most EU states can offer exclusive rates to their sister companies. This is bad for competition and bad for consumers.

With telecomms specialists Cisco predicting that consumers will be using 1.3GB of data on their mobiles by 2016, none of us can afford to get these regulations wrong. While it is an EU decision, our government will be signing off the regulations in the European Council.

The UK, unlike other European governments, is not a shareholder in any of the mobile phone operators, and is therefore free to stand up for hard pressed consumers.

Personally I think the proposals on the table are a disgrace and I really hope that the government agrees with me, and not the mobile operators when it comes to signing off the UK's position and fights to reduce data usage roaming prices.

 

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