EU regulators examine cell phone costs abroad

14 Aug 2008

(Associated Press via NewsEdge) Europe's mobile phone operators regularly charge users for more time than they actually use when it comes to expensive calls made away from home, European regulators said.

Users are billed more 'by a significant margin' for calls they make abroad because many operators charge for each minute of a call instead of by the second, the European group of national telecoms agencies said in a report.

That means people are paying for 24% more minutes than they use, and 19% more than they receive.

The EU last year capped the costs of cell phone calls made and received abroad; costs then dropped by 60%.

Regulators said operators are not dropping prices beyond that, with average retail prices at or just below the maximum limit in two-thirds of EU nations.

Prices for sending or receiving text messages abroad have barely moved, it said, even though the high cost of using the mobile internet outside a user's home nation appears to be falling but still varies widely from country to country.

Cheered by the success of slashing call costs for travelers, the European Commission is now threatening to impose a cap on roaming fees for text messages in October, saying it wants prices to crash by up to 70%.

It is also warning that it may take action on 'heavily overpriced' mobile internet fees if companies don't do more to reduce these in the next few months.

EU residents traveling outside their home nations send some 2.5 billion text messages every year, paying 10 times more than they do at home. The EU's telecom chief said some 97% of the price of each message is 'pure revenue for the operator' wrung out of the three-quarters of the young people who text when abroad.

The report looked at data from 140 operators across Europe from October 2007 to March 2008. It said this covered almost all mobile phone users in the 27-nation European Union, as well as Iceland and Norway.

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