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Mobile-phone operators may escape fines under EU roaming law

Mobile-phone operators such as Vodafone Group Plc may be able to ignore a proposed European Union law setting price caps for international calls without facing any financial penalty.

Under a proposed EU plan, national regulators would estimate any fine for a phone operator flouting the rules. The amount would be limited to a „reasonable sum of money or be waived entirely” if the regulator determines it „would result in undue hardship,” according to the February 6 proposal obtained by Bloomberg News.

The draft regulation would cap average roaming charges at 40 euro cents ($0.52) a minute, to be lowered by 5% after a year and a further 5% two years after the law takes effect. EU Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding drew up an original draft last July, which prompted criticism from several EU governments, including France and the UK, that the price caps were too strict.

Germany, which holds the EU's six-month presidency, is responsible for working out a compromise, which should come into effect this July. The current German proposal will be discussed by EU telecom ministers at a March 15 meeting in Hanover. The ministers gave Reding's plan their initial support during a meeting in December. Some European parliament members, including Paul Ruebig, an Austrian Christian Democrat who is steering the legislation through parliament, said last month that the price cap should cover text messaging, also known as Short Message Services, or SMS, and data services.

Germany hasn't included data in the current proposal. The plan calls for national regulators to review the data market and to report to legislators 18 months after the law takes effect on whether to include data. In a January 25 interview, Reding said data may be included because of European Parliament pressure. She warned operators that they should lower data charges. (Bloomberg)