Phone a friend cheaply - thanks to EU

“I'M on the train”, is probably the most commonly overheard mobile telephone conversation on any journey from Liverpool Street to Colchester or Ipswich but it's less likely to be replicated on the Paris to Calais stage of Eurostar.

Richard Howitt MEP

“I'M on the train”, is probably the most commonly overheard mobile telephone conversation on any journey from Liverpool Street to Colchester or Ipswich but it's less likely to be replicated on the Paris to Calais stage of Eurostar.

For many of us these days, calling home, texting friends and now even surfing the net and using social network sites whilst out and about on our mobiles and lap top computers is commonplace.

The cost of participating in this revolution of personal communications is factored into our financial budgets and the phone companies seem to continue to reduce prices, increase the number of inclusive minutes and 'free' texts and the amount of web data allowed within the monthly fee.


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At least that is the case here in the UK. Once we leave the country to travel in the rest of Europe then the mobile tends to stay firmly in the pocket, with so-called 'roaming' charges, the price of texting and of mobile surfing prohibitive.

The price of calling home from Europe on a mobile has fallen now - but only after enormous pressure by members of the European Parliament on the EU to force the phone companies to lower their charges for voice 'roaming' in Europe.

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Regulations introduced by the EU last year have brought voice roaming charges down by around 60 per cent this summer as compared to last.

And later this month will see the EU consider a new round of strict price caps on text messages and data downloads within Europe.

The mobile operators have also been warned to make it clear to customers the potential high price incurred for data roaming services such as downloading films whilst travelling in European countries.

And I don't want it to stop there, with other measures to make sure the fast changing telecoms sector provides a better deal for consumers.

The telecoms industry across Europe will come under renewed scrutiny by the European Parliament later this month to improve:

· Internet access and better choice of broadband provider;

· Helping the 37 million people in Europe who are disabled, infirm or elderly gain easier access to telecommunications;

· Clearer information about tariffs and prices;

· Access to free phone numbers that often cover important help and advice lines when travelling in Europe.

With its issues of help, advice and emergency assistance, accessibility for those who have special needs as well as just plain convenience and aid to keeping in touch with families, friends and colleagues, mobile telecommunications services are important for us here at home and when travelling through Europe.

It is one area where membership of the EU is leading directly to the emphasis switching for the mobile phone companies from making excessive profits to serving the needs of the consumer.

Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Euro MP for the East of England region including Essex and Suffolk. Contact richard@richardhowittmep.com

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