The European Commission will seek powers this spring to cut the cost of ‘“roaming” for mobile phone users unless operators cut prices, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Information Technology, says.

Regulations that would curtail premium charges for phone users calling from abroad could take effect in summer 2007 if the timetable goes to plan, Ms Reding said in an interview with Les Echos.

“I have already been in contact with authorities in Finland, which assumes the European Union presidency in the second half,” she said. Ms Reding is keen to ensure that the momentum towards compulsory price cuts is maintained after planned European Parliament hearings into the topic this spring.

Ms Reding also revealed that she notified German authorities on Friday of her opposition to German government plans to prolong the monopoly of Deutsche Telekom over Germany’s fibre optic network in exchange for accelerated investment by the operator.

“It’s a striking example of the opposite of what should be done,” she said. Ms Reding said the EU’s 11th report on the European telecommunications market, to be published on Monday, demonstrates that “there is a direct correlation between market openness, the results of the operators, and the benefits for consumers. In the countries with the most-open markets, the prices are the lowest, and investments highest.”

Ms Reding said that within the 25 states that make up the EU, broadband penetration was highest in the Netherlands, at 23.8 per cent of lines, and Denmark, with 22.5 per cent. The world leader, South Korea, has a penetration rate of 25.5 per cent.

“The Dutch and the Danes have obtained the best results by stimulating competition,” Ms Reding, a Luxembourg commissioner, said. Across the Union, the number of broadband lines rose by 20m last year, to 53m.

Ms Reding said the EU regulatory system, which works through national regulators, is effective, but the Commission might seek powers to impose remedies for market failings, currently the responsibility of national regulators, in a revision of the Telecoms Directive at the year end. “Sometimes national regulators struggle to impose remedies,” she said.

Meantime, the penetration rate of mobile phones reached 92.8 per cent last October, up from 86 per cent a year earlier. The price of a three-minute call from a mobile to a fixed phone had fallen 65 per cent over the five years to end-2005, Ms Reding said.

Number portability is working, the unique Europe-wide emergency number, 112, functions throughout the Union, and work on mobile directories is advancing, though states sometimes drag their heels on implementation of the directive.

Ms Reding said she had been obliged to 50 launch infraction procedures against 23 member states since November 2004 when she took the IT portfolio.

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