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Mobile roaming charges face axe

International call fees could be scrapped by 2015 within European Union

EXTRA charges for using your mobile abroad are set to be axed by the EU, potentially saving second homeowners, expats and tourists in France hundreds of euros a year.

The European Commission has set a goal of scrapping roaming fees - the charges applied for using a mobile abroad - by 2015.

If passed, the new law could have a knock-on effect on the cost of all international calls from mobiles.

Consumer watchdog UFC-Que Choisir claims the move would have wider benefits for consumers as operators may be forced to lower all international call rates if roaming fees disappear.

The group’s head of telecoms Edouard Barreiro said: "Big companies like Orange and Telefónica [which owns O2 in the UK] negotiate very cheap deals with each other - they pay just a few centimes a minute.

"There is no real reason why customers should be charged e0.50 a minute when the wholesale price is so low. Roaming generates big profits - it’s the icing on the cake for mobile operators."

Under the current system, second homeowners in France with a British mobile are charged up to 38p a minute to call the UK and 19p a minute to receive calls.

British expats in France who visit the UK pay up to €0.51 a minute to make calls and e0.22 to receive them.

The European commissioner for digital affairs, Neelie Kroes, said: "The difference between roaming and national tariffs should approach zero by 2015."

According to her report, the average EU mobile call in 2009 cost e0.13 a minute - but the same call while roaming cost three times as much, €0.38.

Mobile operators claim delivering international calls is expensive because of the administrative burden of sharing data between different countries’ networks.

A UK telecoms source said the move to scrap international roaming fees represented "a fundamental shift to how the mobile market would work".

The new rules will not apply to mobile internet access, where there are huge differences in the prices charged depending on operator and country visited. Using a French Orange phone to download one megabyte of data in the UK can cost €9.22.

The same amount of web use on SFR costs €1. The price gap applies to UK mobile firms in France as well. Vodafone charges £1 per megabyte for web use in France while Orange UK costs £3.

Under new EU rules, operators must cap overseas mobile web use at €50 by default to prevent customers accidentally racking up huge bills.

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