Phone users pay €60 per hour to surf web abroad
IRISH smartphone users are being charged up to €60 an hour for browsing the internet overseas.
Now the EU is planning a crackdown on mobile phone data roaming charges in a bid to stop customers racking up huge bills abroad -- like the German holidaymaker who returned to a €46,000 bill for downloading TV programmes in France.
The move is targeted to help the soaring number of people on smartphones -- more than a million in Ireland alone -- who can still face outrageous charges for using the internet abroad.
More than a million Irish people now own a smartphone -- a mobile phone capable of receiving data such as emails and of connecting to the internet -- according to advertising company return2sender.ie.
And many are still paying up to €5 per megabyte (MB) to roam in Europe, the Irish Independent has found.
Mobile phone company Three charges €4 per MB for internet use in most European countries, a 300pc mark-up over the maximum permitted EU wholesale rate of €1 per MB including VAT.
According to Three's own published estimates, you would typically use 15MB an hour browsing the internet or 8MB per Youtube video -- which, at their prices, would cost you €60 or €32 respectively in Europe.
O2 charges €4.98 per MB for the first four MBs used each day -- meaning you'd pay almost €20 to download just three songs -- although the next 46MB is free.
An O2 spokesperson said that while it would be expensive to download a song or other heavy data, most customers didn't do this abroad.
"We believe this offering is competitive because of the free element if you use four to 50MBs a day," she said.
Meteor and eMobile, meanwhile, have been charging customers even more, at a staggering €10.24 per MB in Europe. However, they both simultaneously slashed these rates down to €0.99 per MB last Tuesday.
Asked how they had justified such exorbitant mark-ups over EU wholesale rates, an eMobile spokesperson said the company had always planned to reduce the rate and now was the most sensible time to do so, ahead of the holiday season.
Vodafone prices vary depending on the country, ranging from €2 per day for 50MB to €4.99 for up to 10MB. Using more than that costs from €1 to €3.63 per MB.
The Consumers Association of Ireland said high data roaming charges were a huge sore point for Irish business and leisure travellers alike.
"Data roaming charges remain extortionate in some cases, even though we are living in a digital age and these high prices are a huge barrier to an accepted part of modern life," said CAI Chief Executive Dermott Jewell.
"The mobile industry has had to be dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way and compulsory price caps introduced using EU muscle have proven the only way to get results," said Mr Jewell.
A European Commission spokesperson confirmed to the Irish Independent that it would publish legislation in June introducing strict new rules on data roaming costs.
It is understood this will include new retail price ceilings on the cost of downloading data on phones abroad, and a mechanism to allow consumers to shop around for better roaming rates.
Consumers have already been helped by last year's EU measure cutting off overseas internet access if your roaming bill exceeds €60 to avoid exorbitant bills, though customers can opt out of this.