Timothy Kirkhope MEP welcomes the news that the price of using UK minutes, texts and data in the EU has been successfully reduced as part of a European regulation designed to limit roaming charges.
Mobile phone users previously paid roaming charges whenever they connected to an operator based abroad, which are added to the cost of calls, texts and data. A Vodafone customer visiting Belgium, for example, could connect to a Belgian network and pay around 16.5p to begin a call. Now they pay just 4p.
Under the regulation, mobile operators cannot charge more than an extra 3p a minute for calls and are limited to charging 1p a text and 3p a megabyte.
The European Commission estimates the caps will make using a UK number within the EU up to 75% cheaper in the run up to the abolition of roaming charges next June. From then, mobile phone users will pay the same price to make calls, send texts and use data wherever they are in the EU.
The new regulations have been introduced to prevent users running up eye-watering bills using their phone abroad. According to uSwitch, a British price-comparison website, "bill shock" affects millions of European mobile users every year.
The British Government's minister for digital economy, Ed Vaizey, predicted that British mobile phone users will save millions of pounds a year. There are around a million British citizens in the EU at any one time and they spend "around £350m a year" on roaming charges.
Conservatives in the European Parliament have been calling for a reduction in roaming charges for a decade. The regulation is the product of years of negotiation, during which Conservative MEPs have strongly supported its provisions in the interest of EU consumers and in particular their UK constituents.
Not only will it greatly benefit all EU consumers by reducing the cost of using their mobile phones abroad but it will write the principle of 'net-neutrality' into law, formally protecting freedom of speech on the internet. Member State governments will nevertheless continue to be able to maintain online parental controls if they are written into national law.
Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope noted that "The regulation fulfils an important joint purpose. It will ensure the internet remains free of anti-competitive behaviour, such as slowing down access to new websites in favour of established firms. At the same time, it will ensure that Member States' parental control measures remain effective. In this way, it will clearly set out the rules regulating the online world, so it remains accessible, clear and fair".
Some have asked what the effect of the UK leaving the EU might be on British mobile phone users. Mr Vaizey said "I don't know what would happen if we leave the EU and that's the problem". If the UK votes to leave the EU, roaming charges will cease to be restricted by the regulation and this agreement would need to be re-established. The content of the regulation could be incorporated into British law after an exit, but whether it would be and how long that would take is not clear.