Brussels goes to battle this week over high costs for Europeans in using mobile phones across EU borders, with a new proposal slated to slash expensive roaming bills to almost zero by 2015.
With many disgruntled vacationers each summer returning home to shock bills after calls or phone downloads during holidays in another European Union nation, the European Commission on Wednesday releases a plan for a single phone market.
The aim is to narrow or eliminate altogether the difference between the cost of a domestic call and one made from another country in the 27-nation bloc.
Telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes, bent on tackling a lack of competition between phone operators, will unveil legislative proposals to offer EU citizens the possibility of buying a stand-alone roaming service from any provider while keeping their own number.
"Mobile communications services are sold in bundles including both domestic and roaming services which limits customer choice for roaming services," says the draft obtained by AFP. "Consequently, competition among operators on the basis of the roaming element in the mobile bundle is not yet apparent."
"Consumers should have the right to opt for the separate sale of roaming services from their domestic mobile package."
The 26-page proposal aims to set the new rules in stone in 2014 but still needs to be discussed by governments and the European Parliament, a process set to take months.
Currently, the EU has imposed maximum rates known as "Eurotariffs", which came into force in 2007, first for voice calls but later extended to SMS and other services.
But "there is still evidence that the relationship between costs and prices is far from what would prevail in competitive markets," Kroes believes.
Before the stand-alone roaming service comes into effect, however, Kroes will suggest that the Eurotariff system, initially due to be phased out in 2012, be extended until 2016.
Rates under that system will continue to be decreased.
The maximum price for making a phone call abroad would drop from 0.35 euros a minute today not including sales tax to 0.32 euros in 2012, 0.28 euros in 2013 and down to 0.24 by 2014, according to the draft obtained by AFP.
Sending an SMS would cost 0.10 euros from next year instead of 0.11 today.
For the first time, a ceiling on the retail price of using mobile data outside one's home country would be set at 0.90 euros per megabyte in July 2012, dropping to 0.70 euros in 2013 and 0.50 euros in 2014.
"The high level of voice, SMS and data roaming prices payable by users of public mobile telephone networks, such as students, business travellers and tourists ... is a matter of concern," the proposal says.
"The creation of a European social, educational and cultural area based on the mobility of individuals should facilitate communication between people."