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Lords committee to quiz industry over high mobile roaming charges

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Young Woman Talking on Phone and Using Laptop in Car

© Rex Features / West Coast Surfer / Mood Board

A House of Lords committee will today challenge the mobile industry to explain why consumers often face "expensive charges" when using their mobile phones abroad.

The House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on the Internal Market is currently scrutinising proposals from the European Commission to lower mobile phone roaming charges within EU countries.

In an evidence session this afternoon at the House of Lords, the panel will question representatives from mobile phone companies and consumer groups about the reasons behind the high cost of 'roaming', in which mobile users link to other networks while abroad.

Due to appear before the committee are Julie Minns, the head of public policy and corporate responsibility at mobile operator Three UK; Bob Warner, the chair of the Ofcom-created Communications Consumer Panel; Erzsebet Fitori, director of regulatory affairs at the European Competitive Telecommunications Association; and Robyn Durie, the director of regulatory affairs at Everything Everywhere, the UK joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile.

They will be asked about "the reasons for the high costs of roaming, the case for EU regulation in the area and the measures needed to protect consumers from 'bill shock'".

The peers will also question the participants about what should be the maximum charges for roaming, as well as how people using internet-enabled smartphones can be protected in any new regulatory environment.

The evidence session comes after media regulator Ofcom published an action plan aimed at preventing mobile users from suffering "bill shock", in which they receive "unexpectedly" high bills.

Ofcom's review found that downloading data overseas was a key issue in generating high bills for consumers, particularly for anyone travelling outside of the European Union.

The watchdog said that customers can be particularly stung by downloading data on their smartphones without actually realising it, often via 'always on' social network feeds or web-connected apps.

Current EU Roaming Regulation requires mobile operators to apply a cut-off limit once a consumer's mobile internet bill reaches 50 Euros (around £42) per month while travelling in the EU. They must also send alerts when customers reach 80% and 100% of their limit.

EU regulatory group BEREC has proposed extending this measure so that European consumers enjoy the same protection worldwide. The EU is to decide on the new rules before the summer, with a view to bringing these into force in July 2012.

However, Ofcom is calling on UK mobile operators to voluntarily bring the worldwide financial caps into force earlier, and has said that it will consider intervening to protect consumers if no action is taken.

BEREC is also proposing that wholesale data roaming costs should drop significantly by 2014, to under 5 eurocents per MB of data from the current rate of around 25 eurocents.

Mobile operators currently charge around 1 euro (83p) for 1MB of data, but it is hoped that the cut in wholesale costs will enable customers to access cheaper mobile data while abroad.

The House of Lords evidence session will start at 3.45pm in Committee Room 2 of the House of Lords. It is open to the public and will be broadcast live at www.parliamentlive.tv.

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