Making and receiving mobile phone calls across the European Union could become cheaper from July — but MEPs have rejected proposals to begin making the cost the same as domestic calls from this year.

Compulsory maximum rates for roaming — using your phone overseas — were first imposed on mobile operators nearly five years ago to tackle what the European Commission called the "roaming rip-off".

Operators were said to be making profits of more than 200% for mobile calls made while in another EU country, and up to 400% for calls received.

Key Points

  • Bid to scrap mobile roaming charges defeated
  • MEPs recommend charge cuts instead
  • Target for charges to dive by 2014

The gap between roaming and domestic charges has now fallen by about 75% since 2007.

This week, a committee of MEPs rejected pressure to eliminate the difference by 2014, but recommended another round of charge cuts in the summer.

Current laws capping roaming charges for phone calls, text messaging and internet data expire at the end of June. They will need to be replaced by new rules, otherwise providers could charge what they like.

There is no cap on what operators charge per megabyte of mobile data, but they must limit overall usage.

Recommended price caps

The European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee has proposed the following price caps (excluding VAT) on the roaming charges consumers pay:

  • Outgoing calls: Capped at €0.25 per minute from July 2012, €0.20 from July 2013 and €0.15 from July 2014.
  • Incoming calls: Capped at €0.08 from July 2012, €0.07 from July 2013 and €0.05 from July 2014.
  • Texts: Capped at €0.08 from July 2012, €0.07 from July 2013 and €0.05 from July 2014.
  • Data: Capped at €0.50 per megabyte from July 2012, €0.30 from July 2013 and €0.20 from July 2014.

The caps are lower than those originally proposed by the European Commission last July (see the Rules could slash data roaming costs MSE news story).

Current roaming caps

Providers can currently charge a maximum for the following (prices exclude VAT):

  • Outgoing calls: €0.35 per minute.
  • Incoming calls: €0.11 per minute.
  • Texts: €0.11 per text.
  • Data: Operators can charge what they like per megabyte but they must cap usage at €50 per month, unless a different limit is agreed by the user.

'No need for roaming charges'

Labour MEP Peter Skinner says: "There's no need for phone companies to have any roaming charges."

But he says the European Parliament's Industry Committee proposals will bring down rates further if adopted by EU governments.

He adds: "This compromise would bring down phone charges and data roaming charges across the EU in time for the this year's summer holidays.

"Phone companies are still using international travel as a way of ripping off customers. Airwaves know no international borders so it's crazy for customers to pay loads for a phone call from Dover to Calais 21 miles away, while Dover to the Shetlands, hundreds of miles away off the coast of Scotland, costs much less."

Before the proposals come into force they need to be approved by the entire European Parliament. It's expected a decision will be made in time for the summer.

Additional reporting by the Press Association.