It's not just the bureaucrats in Brussels who think mobile phone companies charge too much for making calls abroad. Some 63 percent of European citizens avoid using their mobile phones while travelling, mainly because of the costs attached, according to a survey carried out for the European Commission.
On average, roaming prices are still four times higher than the cost of national mobile calls. In some cases, roaming prices can exceed €12 (US$15) for a four-minute call abroad, the Commission, unveiling the survey conducted by research company Eurobarometer.
The European Union should step in to make sure that prices for making and receiving calls on mobile phones when travelling in other EU countries are not substantially higher than those at home, according to 70 percent of the nearly 25,000 participants in the survey from around the EU.
Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed would support EU intervention to bring down roaming charges for SMS messaging.
Calls for action are even louder among young mobile phone users. Some 78 percent of 15-24 year olds supported EU action against high roaming charges for SMS.
"Young people are begging us to take action," said Viviane Reding, the European commissioner in charge of telecom policy.
In spite of recent moves by phone companies to reduce roaming charges, they remain "very high," Reding said. "A majority of travellers are deterred from using their mobile phones, some even switch their phones off or leave them at home," she added, as her proposal for legislation to force down the cost of roaming begins its journey through the EU's two legislative chambers, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
Europe's telecom industry has criticised Reding's plan to intervene in the mobile phone market. It is lobbying parliamentarians and national governments to water down the Commission proposal for forced price cuts.
The Commission's proposal, unveiled in July, aims at setting a formula for wholesale roaming charges based on the average cost of terminating a phone call made abroad.
Termination costs are one of three costs incurred when a phone is used outside the country it is registered in. The other two are the originating cost and the sending cost. The new law would impose a maximum wholesale roaming charge set at twice the average termination cost across the EU for local calls made abroad. If you use your mobile phone to make an international call while you are abroad the maximum wholesale price would be three times the average European termination cost.
Once the European Parliament and the national governments of the E.U.'s 25 member states agree to the shape of the proposed law it will become effective immediately, forcing phone operators to cut the wholesale prices they charge each other for handling the calls of subscribers outside the countries they are registered in.
The 25 telecom ministers will discuss the Commission proposal at a Dec. 11 meeting. The Parliament is expected to give an initial response in the coming weeks.