Europe seeks to save us from death by roaming charges

It's unclear why we still have to pay punitive roaming charges abroad, but the European Commission's new plans may alleviate the practice.

If you've traveled internationally, you know that airfare is often the cheapest part of the trip. The big ticket item, oddly enough, is often roaming charges. Last year I was hit with a $1,450 bill for fewer than three hours of online time in Canada. Others have been hit with far worse.

It's therefore gratifying to read in Ars Technica that the European Commission, which has taken on Microsoft and others, has turned its attention to the abusive roaming charges that wireless carriers inflict on consumers.

According to the European Commission, citizens are charged an average price of ?0.29 for sending a text message while abroad by carriers like Vodafone and O2....The European Union announced plans in July to challenge what it called the "roaming rip-off," and the proposed caps have been set at a retail price of ?0.11 and wholesale price of ?0.04 for text messages. The proposition is now in the hands of the European Parliament; if the cap is approved, it will go into effect on July 1, 2009.

Other proposed changes include a retail cap of ?1 per roaming megabyte, as well as the introduction of an automated message that informs the user of the roaming data charges....Finally, a cap on roaming voice call prices set in 2007 could be lowered further, as the proposition seeks reduce the current ?0.46 cap on making calls to ?0.34, and the ?0.22 cap on receiving calls to ?0.10. Those changes would be in effect by July 1, 2012.

It can't come soon enough. There doesn't appear to be any credible reason to maintain sky-high roaming charges internationally. Remember when the wireless carriers insisted upon charging exorbitant domestic roaming charges? Funny that they managed to survive once they dumped those. The same should hold true for international roaming charges.

It's time to encourage a free market in mobile by removing, or at least severely limiting, roaming charges. It's good to see the European Commission taking the lead in this.

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