Plans to scrap roaming fees under attack

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Mobile phone operators on Thursday spoke out against European Union plans to scrap lucrative “roaming” fees, arguing that surcharges for international handset use were already falling.

Executives from com-panies including Vodafone and TeliaSonera went to Brussels in an effort to stave off European Commission legislation that would force them to stop charging extra cross-border costs.

The legislative plans came under further attack from national telecommunications regulators, who agreed prices should fall but urged Viviane Reding, EU telecoms commissioner, to take a different approach to the proposed law.

The criticism highlights the difficulty of trying to legislate on EU roaming fees – which customers pay to make and receive calls abroad – and comes with just a week left for the industry to submit its opinions to Brussels.

Ms Reding has vowed next year to scrap the charges, which account for 10-20 per cent of operators’ profits. She claims consumers’ costs for international phone use could fall by 40 per cent, although this would depend on the type and volume of use.

However, many people believe that the threat of legislation will spur companies to cut roaming charges. Orange, which is owned by France Telecom, on Thursday announced it would reduce such fees by a quarter.

Wolfgang Kopf, executive vice-president of T-Mobile, said: “We think that the majority of European operators have already shown initiatives of how they are bringing prices down.”

Richard Feasey, Vodafone public policy director, highlighted the growth of his company’s “Passport” service, which offers savings of between 30-45 per cent on roaming fees. He said it was adding 100,000 customers a week.

Mr Feasey told a European parliament hearing: “The cost of domestic calls and handsets is still more important to most of our customers than the cost of roaming.”

He added: “I see no reason why we would expect roaming prices to end up being exactly the same as domestic prices if customers value them differently, as they do.”

Paul Champsaur, French telecoms regulator, said the Commission’s complex plans could be difficult to implement and might lead to industry instability.

Many people believe telecoms operators would raise domestic tariffs in an effort to recoup lost revenues if the legislation went ahead.

Gunnar Forsgren, senior vice-president of corporate affairs at Swedish group TeliaSonera, asked: “What if the retail prices are below the cost of the services? Should we be compelled to provide the service anyway?”

The regulation will be officially presented in July. It will be subject to the approval of the European parliament and member states.

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