Newsbeat's guide to... mobile roaming charges

iPhone
Prices for using the mobile internet look set to fall

It's done it before and it's trying to do it again, but what's behind the EU's latest effort to cut mobile charges?

What's it got to do with the EU anyway?

One of the powerful bodies of the European Union - the Commission - is in charge of the smooth running of the single market.

That's where all EU member states get a fair crack at trading with each other and within the 27 EU countries.

In 2005, the Commission said there wasn't enough competition when it came to prices for mobile roaming, so they stepped in.

And then what?

The EU Roaming Regulation was created and signed off in 2007.

It set maximum prices for making and receiving calls abroad.

These applied to all consumers unless they chose special packages offered by operators.

It was hoped competition would be created by firms competing with each other on price.

Great! So did they?

No. Not enough to satisfy the EU chiefs, so they began a further series of cuts.

In July 2009, new rules pushed down roaming prices on voice calls even more and added a cap on SMS tariffs.

Data roaming limits were set at €50 in 2010 before a cut off kicked in to protect travellers from "bill shocks".

But with no price limit on data, that €50 got you different amounts of downloading depending on operator.

More cuts to call charges came in 2011, so that now the maximum you can be charged for a call is 35 cents a minute (about 30p), and 11 cents (roughly 9p) to send a text.

Customers also get an SMS when crossing EU country borders telling them price information.

Why more again changes now?

Mobile companies say they've done plenty to lower prices.

But it stills costs way more to use your phone in EU countries outside the one the contract's held in - especially now smartphones mean everyone's using more data.

So one last push?

That's it. The Commission's come up with new cuts, but this time MEPs in one of the EU's other powerful sections, the European Parliament, have voted to go further than ever before.

With staged cuts over the next three summers, they want call charges slashed, and for the first time ever will tell operators it's not on to charge more than 20 cents (about 16p) per megabyte for data.

For comparison, an average MP3 song is around three to five megabytes.

So when's it getting sorted?

Not yet. MEPs only get half the say.

The Council of Ministers - the body where member countries' governments get a say at EU level - also have to agree.

They might think differently, at least a little bit.

Sources say after listening to phone companies, the Council of Ministers might vote for higher limits on maximum charges to give operators more room to compete over pricing.

Critics say that's not worked before and wonder why it would now.

If the Council of Ministers and the MEPs do end up arguing, the Commission will step in and try to broker a deal.

But it looks certain prices will end up lower - and by July this year - just no-one is sure by how much.