- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2012

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Parliament on Thursday approved a clampdown on mobile network operators to protect consumers from paying excessive prices for using their phones and tablet computers abroad.

The legislature backed by a massive 578-10 margin, with 10 abstentions, a deal to make it cheaper to make phone calls, download emails or surf the Internet when abroad in other EU countries.

The caps on fees will take effect on July 1 at the start of the European summer holiday season when many holiday makers all too often were the unwitting victims of overspending on high roaming costs only to find out when the bill came in later.

`’We have ended the rip-offs familiar to anyone who has used a mobile phone while travelling abroad,” said EU Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes.

The European Commission estimated that for a Belgian family vacationing in Italy for a week the data bill could be reduced from (EURO)270 to (EURO)44 by making it cheaper, for example, to check social media and upload photos. Businesses would be able to cut costs by a similar rate for their travelling personnel as the European market becomes more streamlined and the massive difference in fees at home and abroad are reduced.

`’In a borderless Europe, there is no place for charges that diverge so much at home and abroad,” said European Parliamentarian Ivo Belet. The issue had remained unsolved for years and was seen as proof that however hard the European Union tries, it could not impose a seamless single market for consumers.

As of July 1, 2014, mobile-phone and tablet users can sign separate roaming contracts _ meaning that their devices will automatically switch to their alternative network when they cross over into another EU state.

It’s the first time that the bloc has capped the price consumers have to pay for mobile data roaming within its 27 member states. Until now, it had only regulated the price networks charge each other, but the European Commission, the EU’s executive, said last year that that had not succeeded in pushing down prices for consumers.

As of July 1 this year, downloading one megabyte of data will cost consumers no more than 70 euro cents (93 dollar cents), plus value added tax. The cap will be lowered to 40 euro cents, plus tax, by July 2014. At the moment, network operators regularly charge more than (EURO)3 ($4) per megabyte.

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