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EC bids to slash mobile-roaming charges

Current level 'unjustified'

The European Commission announced today that it would present draft regulation by the middle of the year aimed at cutting mobile phone roaming charges in Europe by more than half.

European Information Society commissioner Viviane Reding will submit a proposal in June that would force mobile operators to charge the same rates for calls made on another country’s network as they do for domestic calls, ending international roaming charges as they exist today, she said.

The current level of roaming charges imposed by operators is unjustified, Reding said. "I am not prepared to stand on the sidelines," she said.

Roaming charges levied by some operators range from €4 to €6 (about £2.75 to £4.15) for a four-minute call, she said. In more extreme examples, Spanish customers can be charged €8 (about £5.50) in roaming fees for a four-minute call on networks in Cyprus and Latvia, while some UK customers face a €7 (about £4.80) fee for using their phones in Slovenia, Reding said.

She is also seeking to end the practice of charging users for receiving calls while on other operators' networks, she said.

Kip Meek, chairman of the ERG (European Regulators Group) and of UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom, said his groups supported Reding’s initiative, saying: "Our commitment to resolve this is absolute." The cost of roaming is "completely disproportionate" to the technical issues involved, he said.

He suggested there could be a uniform price cap on wholesale prices which could cut call charges by up to 60 percent, to around €0.30 (20p) per minute. Operators should be monitored to ensure they pass these savings on to consumers, he said. There may also be a need for legislation to ensure that wholesale price reductions are being passed on, he said.

The regulations to force operators to cut roaming charges will have to be approved by a majority of the EU's 25 member states and by MEPs. Reding said she hoped the measures could be in place by mid-2007. It would be unusual, however, for the Council of Ministers and MEPs to agree on complex legislation so quickly.

EU leaders gave support to her initiative at their summit meeting in Brussels last week, she noted. The leaders issued a communiqué at the summit saying that high roaming charges were a barrier to competitiveness.

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