International roaming fees within the EU will be regulated before mobile phone users set off on their summer holidays, the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, said.
Consumers will pay a maximum of £0.33 per minute, excluding value-added tax, once regulations are introduced, she said.
Reding expects the necessary regulations, which will affect wholesale and retail charges, to be in place by the end of June, so "there will be no last summer for operators, no last €3bn”, she said, following a meeting of the telecommunications ministers of the European Union's member states.
The figure of £.033 will disappoint European consumer groups, which last month called for charges to be limited to £0.22 per minute for calls made from one EU country to another while roaming. At the end of 2006, charges averaged £0.42 per minute, according to figures published in February by the GSM Association, which represents mobile phone operators.
There are three kinds of roaming charges: the cost to receive a call while roaming, the cost to make a call within the country being visited, and the cost to make a call back home or to a third country. For roaming within the European Union, consumer groups including BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation, called in February for those charges to be limited to £0.10, £0.17 and £0.22 per minute, respectively.
Reding would not address those details, talking only of a maximum of £0.33. She did say that fee could be stricter, as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who must also agree to the proposals, are calling for a ceiling of £0.28 per minute.
The regulations will take effect as soon as they have been agreed by the member states' telecommunications ministers and by the MEPs, without the need for additional national legislation, she said. Those regulations are now on the fast track to be agreed by the end of June, before the end of the German presidency of the E.U.
The telecommunications ministers met informally on the fringes of the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, where they also discussed the future of mobile television services in Europe.
Ministers are convinced that there will be demand for such services, with up to 100 million subscribers by 2010, said German Federal Minister of Economics and Technology Michael Glos.
That level of demand will create more technical jobs in Europe, he said, but for the market to develop, "the first step is coming up with more consistent regulations across Europe," he said.