April 22, 2009
European Union lawmakers moved the put an end to mobile phone "bill shock" Wednesday by mandating price limits on text messages and voice calls that are scheduled to go into effect in time for the summer tourist season.
The biggest cuts will be for text messages. Mobile handset users will pay a maximum price of 11 euro cents (14 U.S. cents) for a text message -- a reduction from the current ceiling of 36 U.S. cents. Carriers will still be permitted to charge what they want, provided the price is under the ceiling. "Today's vote marks the definite end of the roaming rip-off in Europe," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding, who has championed the drive for more uniform lower wireless messaging rates in Europe. She had complained for months that Europe's mobile industry didn't understand that credible prices were necessary to avoid regulation. The GSM Association, whose members dominate the wireless carrier industry in Europe, opposed the ceilings, arguing that prices for consumers were dropping anyway, making the imposition of the ceilings unnecessary. A spokesperson for the GSM Association said that "detailed price regulation of the roaming market is not the way forward." At the same time, the EU Parliament lawmakers approved a data-downloading measure with a ceiling of 1 euro per megabyte versus the current charge of 1.68 euros. The older pricing schedules have resulted in some countries' carriers charging nearly twice as much as other countries. The texting measure also calls for customers to be billed by the second after the first 30 seconds versus the current practice of charging by the second after the first minute of use. "EU citizens should be free to text across borders without being ripped off," Reding had said in pushing for lower and more uniform message pricing. "The regulation will protect the vast majority of ordinary customers who up to now have been heavily overcharged when traveling abroad." The lawmakers also have been grappling with the worldwide issue of whether mobile carriers can hamper or block VoIP calls from Skype and other VoIP providers. Germany's Deutsche Telekom, for instance, has said it will block Skype calls on iPhones even when they use Wi-Fi.
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