By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union consumers could pay domestic rates to access mobile internet data across the 28-nation single market under EU Council proposals to grant travelers an allowance capped at their home tariffs.
The "roam like at home" option put forward by Latvia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, garnered the support of most member states at a Council meeting this week, EU diplomats said, paving the way for legislation to be drafted.
A first draft is expected in around two weeks, diplomats said, although it could still undergo further changes. Once member states in the Council agree on a position, they can negotiate with EU lawmakers and the executive European Commission to arrive at a final version.
Last year, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to flatten roaming fees within the EU by the end of 2015, as data-hungry consumers complained of the high and opaque cost of using their devices abroad.
Under the current system, network providers pay their overseas counterparts a fee for each megabyte (MB) of data used by their customers abroad, then pass this cost on to consumers in their monthly bill.
But the cost to consumers of accessing data abroad is frequently much higher than at home. In some well-publicized cases, travelers have received bills of thousands of euros on their return.
According to the proposal, operators would have to provide data to consumers abroad at domestic rates up to a limited allowance, which has not been specified.
Beyond this allowance, operators will not be able to charge consumers more than the maximum wholesale prices, currently 0.05 euros per minute or MB of data. Many consumers pay over 0.20 euros per minute or MB of data abroad.
Member states with cheap domestic rates, such as those in eastern Europe, worry that their operators will be forced to hike domestic prices if the wholesale tariffs they pay other operators when their customers travel abroad are not lowered.
Latvia's paper says the proposed system would avoid the situation where retail roaming prices would be lower than wholesale costs.
But depending on the size of the domestic-rate allowance, the legislation could lead to a flattening of data prices across the single market if companies in cheaper markets have to cover the cost of their customers using data abroad.
Telecoms companies have said ending roaming charges prematurely would hurt their revenues.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Sam Wilkin)