You're probably aware that when you travel abroad with your mobile, you pay higher tariffs – as a result of "roaming" charges which apply when you're texting, making and receiving calls, or downloading data on a smartphone.
We've known for some time that these roaming prices can be very high. That means a poor deal for the ordinary mobile user. And it means that people are deterred from using their mobile abroad – which is a shame, as a mobile is supposed to be… well…. mobile. So we've been looking very closely into this market.
My conclusion is that the root cause of high prices is a lack of competition. That means that operators can continue to charge outrageous margins, with significant mark-ups for crossing from one EU country to another – even though these internal borders are not supposed to exist any more.
Until now, we've addressed the problem with price caps on roaming charges. But these don't address the underlying problems of the market.
So today I've proposed
a whole new approach
to the EU market – structural, durable, fundamentally new: we will introduce competition. You will have the right to choose a cheaper "roaming operator" to provide roaming services separately from whoever provides your domestic service – so that you can shop around for the best deal. And to ensure that competitive roaming offers are out there, alternative operators would have to be given network access at regulated wholesale prices.
Until those measures come fully into effect, we'll maintain the safety net of price caps on roaming charges, and will bring them down progressively. This includes a new cap for data roaming which will come down to 50 cents per MB by 2014. But competition will also bring prices down, and substantially below the level of the caps.
Formally, this is an EU Commission proposal for a Regulation – which can only take effect if agreed by both the Council of Ministers from all of the Member States, and also by the European Parliament. So I look forward to debating constructively with them.
UPDATE: you can now view online the legal proposals themselves