(Updates with industry reaction)
By Pete Harrison
STRASBOURG, France, March 9 (Reuters) - A panel of European Union lawmakers voted on Monday in favour of capping the wholesale cost of using a laptop to surf the Internet while travelling outside a home state.
EU regulators and the European Commission want to end “bill shock”, when business travellers or holidaymakers come back home to huge charges for checking emails or surfing the Web while away. Operators criticise the measure as too interventionist.
The law also caps the price to consumers of roamed text messages and extends by two years to 2012 current EU price limits on roamed voice calls.
“Today’s vote in the European Parliament is very good news for consumers all over Europe,” EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding, who authored the draft law, said of the 21-8 vote by Parliament’s industry committee voted 21 in favour of the bill.
“In view of the current economic downturn, the parliament is right in wanting to strengthen the purchasing power of European consumers as of this summer, which will encourage them to make even more use of their mobile phones,” Reding said.
But there were a high 18 abstentions as socialists failed to obtain lower price caps on roamed voice calls than those put forward by the Commission.
Instead, lawmakers backed a 40 euro cents (51 U.S. cents) per minute price cap on roamed voice calls after 2010.
EU governments, which have joint say with parliament on the proposal, have already given preliminary backing to the rules without any significant changes.
A final deal is set to be endorsed in April and take effect in the summer but negotiations will be needed between parliament and EU states to iron out differences due to Monday’s vote.
Lawmakers voted in favour of a retail price cap of 11 euro cents per roamed text, in line with the proposal authored by Reding and agreed by member states.
Lawmakers voted in favour of a wholesale price cap of 50 euro cents per megabyte on data downloads, half what Reding has proposed.
The GSM Association, which represent mobile phone operators, said it was pleased that lawmakers had opted to freeze roamed voice call price caps from 2010.
“We are concerned with the committee reducing the safeguard cap to 50 cents on data roaming. We believe one euro is a true safeguard and once you get to 50 cents you are introducing a price cap,” said its European Affairs Director Martin Whitehead.
Lawmakers also voted in favour of forcing operators to bill per second from the first second of a roamed call, making it more consumer-friendly than Reding’s proposal for charging per second from the 31st second of a call. The move to billing by the second was a concern, GSM Association’s Whitehead said.
Lawmakers voted in favour of extending price caps on roamed calls to 2012 instead of 2013 as the Commission had proposed. (Reporting by Pete Harrison; writing by Huw Jones; editing by Dale Hudson)