EU lawmakers agreed to cut to mobile roaming charges, effectively lowering costs for international calls and data services. The plan still needs the backing of EU leaders and won't come before 2014.
The EU parliament's decision envisages a reduction in roaming charges to 0.25 euro ($0.33) per minute by June from currently 0.35 euro. This cap is intended to fall further to 0.15 euro in 2014, if the parliament's proposal is backed by EU governments.
Consumers pay roaming fees abroad because national operators claim it is more difficult to route a call or a message to a foreign phone.
The draft for the first time also provides for a cap on data roaming charges at 0.20 euro per megabyte – markedly lower than the 0.50 euro set by the European Commission.
"In a European Union with a single market there should not be any difference in calling from one EU member state to another," Judith Merkies, a Dutch member of the European parliament, said in the debate.
The move means that EU lawmakers have joined consumer groups in their demands for a complete scrapping of roaming fees by 2016.
However, they still need to convince the European Commission as well as the leaders of the 27 EU member states to approve the lower caps before June, when current roaming regulation expires.
EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes is in favor of lowering roaming charges, saying she would prefer a "pick-and-mix" of service providers while surfing the internet.
"In my mind, local break-out is the best answer. It is a simple solution which you can select and log onto just as easily as to a wifi network," she told parliament.
Europe's telecoms giants, such as Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom and Telefonica of Spain, however, have criticized the caps reduction.
Fredrick De Backer, Telefonica's manager for regulatory affairs, described the EU Commission's proposal as the minimum level "necessary for any structural solution to work."
"The caps proposed by the European Parliament are far too low to attract any new player to the roaming market, or even for an established player to offer decoupled roaming," he said.
Europe's telecoms firms rely on roaming charges for up to 7 percent of revenue.
uh/ng (dpa, Reuters)