European Law Monitor

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“I’d rather switch it off”: High roaming charges are deterring Europeans from using their mobile phones abroad, says new EU survey

Mobile roaming charges continue to be very high in Europe. This is shown by a Europe-wide survey, published by Eurobarometer today, and by the recent evolution of international mobile roaming prices. An overwhelming majority of EU citizens believe the EU should step in to make sure that prices for making and receiving calls on mobile phones when travelling in other EU countries are not substantially higher than those at home. European mobile phone users continue to pay between €4 and €6 for a four minute roamed call abroad, as shown by the European Commission’s website on roaming prices, updated today. In some cases, roaming prices for such a call can exceed €12.

"Excessively high prices restrict mobile usage while abroad. This hurts consumers, it hurts European industry, and it hurts Europe," says Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. "Reducing roaming prices is not only a political responsibility of the European Commission, but can also be an interesting business model, as demonstrated by some operators who have started to move in this direction in recent months with the introduction of special roaming packages. I call on all mobile operators to help tear down this last visible border in Europe’s internal market. It is not acceptable that the burden of international mobile roaming continues to be shouldered by ordinary citizens who pay standard tariffs."

The new findings on international mobile roaming charges have emerged from a special Eurobarometer report published today. An overwhelming majority (70%) of respondents to the survey support the need for EU intervention to lower roaming costs across the EU (see IP/06/978) to the benefit of ordinary citizens. 68% would even support EU intervention to bring down roaming charges for SMS, a view shared by 78% of mobile phone users aged 15-24.

24,565 people from across the EU’s 25 Member States responded to the survey, which was conducted in September following the summer holiday period. The survey shows that 79% of respondents own a mobile phone, and that of these 44% have travelled to another EU country in the last 12 months for personal reasons. Their opinions on roaming prices are therefore based on real-life experiences.

A clear majority of mobile phone users surveyed make use of their phone substantially less when travelling abroad; this attitude is particularly strong among younger mobile phone users (68% of those aged 15-24) and among students (70%). 81% of them point to high costs as the biggest deterrent – a factor especially discouraging for those from Spain (82%), Malta (85%), Austria (87%), Germany (87%), Slovakia (88%), Hungary (89%), Lithuania (89%), Portugal (90%), the Czech Republic (90%), Slovenia (94%) and Poland (94%).

15% of mobile users surveyed either choose not to take their phones on holiday at all or to switch them off completely. 21% use only text messages (SMS) while abroad. 59% say they would use their phones more when abroad if charges were lower, a view which is widespread in e.g. Finland (60%), France (61%), Denmark (63%), the United Kingdom (64%), Belgium (66%), Cyprus (67%), Poland (72%), Latvia (73%), Greece (74%), Luxembourg (75%) and Malta (78%). Around 43% of mobile users are still confused as to the prices they pay for making or receiving calls abroad. In this context, mobile phone users in Spain, Cyprus, Portugal and Greece appear to be the least informed about roaming charges.

Today, the Commission has also updated its website on roaming prices, which was launched in October 2005 (see IP/05/1217) and last updated in March 2006 (see IP/06/386). The website now shows that, faced with the threat of EU regulation, some mobile phone companies have begun to offer roaming packages for selected groups of customers. However, for the large majority of consumers that pay standard tariffs, there has been no real progress. On average, roaming prices are still 4 times higher than national mobile calls.

A UK customer roaming in Spain can pay €5.92 for a four minute call and up to €4.48 to receive such a call. A French customer travelling in Italy could pay €4.72 while a German customer roaming in the UK can pay up to €6.36. Some customers face much more exorbitant prices: an Austrian in Malta could pay €9.51 to call home for four minutes. A Spanish customer roaming in Latvia can pay up to €9.19 and a Cypriot roaming in Belgium can pay €12.00 for the same call home. An Irish customer roaming in Malta could pay as much as €13.16 for a four-minute call home.


On 12 July this year, following repeated warnings to mobile operators (see IP/04/1458, IP/05/901, MEMO/05/247, SPEECH/01/375) and calls from national regulators to deal with roaming at European level, the European Commission on the initiative of Commissioner Reding (see SPEECH/06/69), proposed an EU regulation on international mobile roaming in the internal single market. The aim of this EU regulation, which is currently being discussed in the European Parliament and in the EU Council of Ministers, is to ensure that excessive roaming charges, which represent one of the last borders in Europe’s internal market, are eliminated. Under the EU regulation, all citizens and businesses in the EU should benefit from a reduction in roaming prices and from enhanced competition among mobile operators through new, cheaper pricing models. The Commission is currently working with the Parliament and the Council to have the new rules adopted by summer 2007. In parallel, Commission investigations are ongoing into potential anti-competitive conduct of mobile operators in the United Kingdom and Germany (see IP/04/994 and IP/05/161).