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More transparency and lower costs for mobile roaming

The European Commission's proposed regulation to cut the cost of using mobile phones abroad – roaming - was discussed at a hearing held by Parliament's Industry and Internal Market committees on Tuesday with representatives of the private sector, NGOs and the Commission itself.

MEPs and speakers generally agreed with the idea of Europe-wide price caps for wholesale and retail roaming prices to cut charges for customers. Parliament's rapporteur Paul Rübig stressed the need for more transparent retail prices for roaming - the fees you pay for receiving or making calls via mobile phones while travelling abroad.
Both he and the Internal Market Committee draftsperson Joseph Muscat, supported a so-called "push system", that would give consumers roaming price information in an automatic text message received on their mobiles as soon as they entered a different country. Roberto Viola of the European Regulators Group emphasized that regulation should quickly achieve substantial price reductions and tariff transparency and be fair and flexible.

Euro-Tariff, flat rate and inclusion of SMS and data
In order to cut the "unjustified high prices" of roaming, Rübig proposed a "Euro Tariff" with an opt-out option which allows customers to choose to have a (single, standardized and regulated) retail roaming charge shown separately from the charges that they pay for national calls. He also mentioned the possibility of an all-inclusive flat rate per month that covers all call charges as well as the transfer of mobile data such as short message service (SMS) texts, multi-media messaging (MMS), etc.
However, Fabio Colasanti, Director General of the Commission's Information Society Directorate-General, was "not convinced to include the price of the transfer of data and SMS in the regulation" but would prefer to keep the trend of those prices "under review". He was backed up by Steve Jordan, of Telefónica - O2, who felt it "not appropriate" to extend the regulation to data services, because these are "still immature" and no analysis has been made so far.

A single European price cap
In contrast to the Commission's original proposal of three separate price caps, Colasanti acknowledged that for the sake of simplicity, a single price cap for calls at home, abroad and to third countries might be preferable. Dominique Forest of the consumer organization BEUC also favored an overall retail cap as well as a "push system" for information on roaming tariffs. At wholesale level, Rübig supported the idea of a single European price cap which should be based on the average prices of all 27 Member States multiplied by the factor x.
According to Christian Salbaing, representing Hutchison, the European wholesale roaming market does not work properly and is a case of market failure. He said that his company negotiated a wholesale roaming price of 25 euro cents for the UK with a US company and that he "cannot understand why this price is not acceptable to European operators". Andrew Kelly, representing METEOR, complained that "roaming in Europe is unfairly controlled by big operators". He preferred a "national non-discrimination provision".

Next steps
Rübig's report is currently scheduled for adoption in the Industry Committee on 12 April 2007, with a plenary debate and vote to follow in May. Colasanti noted that the EU's German Presidency was working on a possible compromise proposal and that everybody would be aiming to get a first reading agreement in this dossier, upon which Parliament and Council are co-legislators. (EP Press)