EU out of touch on mobile data use

Dave Thompson/PA

The European Union appears to be completely out of touch with modern technology consumption following a proposed rule change that means travellers will still be charged extortionate rates to browse the web from mobile phones.

The communications minister, Ed Vaizey, is being urged to fight the EU rule change, which will fix the cost of using a phone while travelling until 2022.

In an open letter to Vaizey, the UK mobile operator Three, the price comparison site uSwitch, consumer group Which? and three trade bodies say the cuts must go further as they still mean mobile internet access is hundreds of times more expensive abroad than at home.

The group is urging Vaizey to use his vote to bring the price down when representatives of European communications ministers meet to make a decision this month.

Call for lower price cap
The European commission wants to impose caps on how much mobile operators can charge each other to let customers roam on their networks while travelling, in the hope this will reduce retail prices.

Yet the group believes that the proposed price caps do not go far enough. The letter states: "Although the European Commission's 'Roaming III' proposals that are due to be voted on will reduce the cost of data year on year, by 2014 they will still see a rate tantamount to £400 for 1GB of mobile data, compared to UK domestic prices of under £10."

It carries on to say that the wholesale prices operators charge each other are at the root of high retail prices passed onto consumers, so limiting the wholesale price to a maximum amount between operators will lead to lower retail prices for consumers.

"Yet the Commission is proposing a wholesale cap more than 10 times higher than domestic retail prices. This means that if the proposals become reality, using the internet on your mobile phone in Europe could end up costing more than the trip itself."

MEPs have tabled amendments that suggest reductions to less than €0.10 a megabyte – about £100 for 1GB – and will vote on 28 February. Ministers' representatives will vote the following day.

Impact on consumers
If costs remain high, both business and leisure travellers will continue to get stung by extortionate rates. The group highlight the cost to businesses of downloading data and suggest many may be forced to place tight restrictions on mobile data usage for business travellers: "It is prohibitively expensive and, in the worst case scenario, stops firms from doing business abroad entirely."

David Dyson, CEO of Three UK says while consumers make the most of their smartphones, data roaming charges force them to limit their internet use the moment they leave the UK. "High wholesale data charges are the cause," he adds. "We believe that wholesale data charges should be capped at €30 per GB or less to make the mobile internet accessible wherever consumers want to use it. With average data use for our smartphone customers approaching 1GB a month this is a real consumer issue."

The current proposals fall far short of addressing the problem in light of significant changes in consumer behaviour and how we use our mobile phones. The letter concludes: "Data usage on mobile devices is exploding and the Commission's proposals in their current form do not address the demand for data in 2012, never mind 2022."

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