EU Deal Expected To Lower Mobile Roaming Fees

European officials have agreed to overhaul mobile roaming fees. That would allow consumers to pay less for calls, texts and mobile web services when traveling abroad. Consumer advocates are urging the EU to go further, and eliminate roaming fees altogether.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Talk will soon be cheaper across the European Union under a new policy to cut roaming charges for mobile phone calls.

But Teri Schultz reports that consumer advocates are urging the EU to go further, and eliminate roaming fees altogether.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: The EU's digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes calls it an end to roaming rip-offs, just in time for summer travel. The European Parliament and member governments have agreed to mandate price cuts for pan-European phone calls that will take effect in July, Kroes explains, and continue to drop through 2014.

NEELIE KROES: This is really great news for anyone who has been stung by high charges when using a mobile abroad.

SCHULTZ: That would include just about everyone using a European mobile phone, as roaming charges are notoriously high here - despite two previous rounds of price-capping - and the rates change at every national border.

Five years ago it was estimated providers were charging as much as triple their domestic rates to make calls abroad - as much as five times more to receive calls. Now the maximum price to make a roaming call will drop from the current 35 cents per minute to 29 cents in July, slashed further to 19 cents per minute by 2014.

The cost of downloading data or Web-surfing will be capped at 70 cents per megabyte in July - much less than is usually charged now. That will be cut dramatically by some two-thirds more by 2014. And operators will have to warn you when you've spent a certain amount.

Commissioner Kroes.

KROES: No more nasty shocks when you open your bill.

SCHULTZ: But John Phelan of the European Consumers Organization says there may be less shock, but the bills are still nasty. Phelan says rates are still too high. And because in the EU's common market you don't have to pay taxes to buy or sell goods among countries, he says you shouldn't have to pay extra for phone calls either.

JOHN PHELAN: If you received a call at national level, you're not charged, so why should you within a so-called single market have to pay to receive a call? You still get ripped off very often despite the caps.

SCHULTZ: Telecom operators say they make about five percent of their revenue from these cross-border calls, and with the new caps they'll have to raise prices in other areas

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

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