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Viviane Reding, European media commissioner, on Wednesday confirmed she was planning legislation to force down the cost of using a mobile phone abroad.
She said she had lost patience with the high prices faced by consumers under international roaming agreements.
“In spite of many warnings and policy initiatives, roaming prices remain unjustifiably high at the retail level, even though competitive pressure may have brought down charges at the wholesale level,” the commissioner said in a speech to the European Regulators Group in Paris.
In October, the Commission launched a website allowing consumers to discover the cost of using a mobile phone abroad and Ms Reding said at the time she would take action if prices were not lowered. Last night she said: “What we see so far is frustrating. Prices appear to have remained essentially unchanged . . . Consumers continue to pay unreasonably high prices for using their mobile phone abroad.”
Operators dispute this claim, however, and deny there is a need for new legislation. “We have seen significant falls in tariffs in recent years,” said Mark Pringle of the GSM Association, a trade group representing more than 800 operators across the world. “We believe the market is sufficiently competitive without the need for legislation …A lot of regulation already exists on a national level, and regulators are satisfied that competition is doing its job.”
Ms Reding said her team had already begun work on drawing up a regulation requiring international roaming charges to be no higher than national ones. She said the draft legislation would not specify prices, but prevent companies charging more for international than for domestic roaming. Roaming charges are paid whenever one operator uses another’s network in an area it does not have coverage, and the commissioner said these should not be any higher just because a network was in another EU state.
The draft may also include instructions on making prices more transparent to consumers. UK operator Orange said it was working to make the cost of international calls more apparent to its customers and the industry said its code of conduct already allowed consumers to discover the cost of calls.
Any proposal would need to win the approval of Ms Reding’s fellow commissioners, and then would have to be agreed by the European parliament and the 25 member states. It would come into force at the end of 2007 at the earliest.
Consumer groups welcomed the proposals. Telecoms users’ group Intug said that regulation was needed “to end the abuses of market power that cause excessive and sometimes exorbitant charges for international mobile roaming”.