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EC roaming plan will raise local rates

Cheaper international calls – at what cost?

An EC (European Commission) proposal aimed at lowering mobile international roaming costs will lead to higher local calling charges for some, a consulting company hired by a group representing mobile operators said yesterday.

Consultants at CRA International found that operators won’t be able to cover the costs of delivering international roaming services if they charge the rates recommended by the EC. As a result, they will be forced to raise the price of domestic calling – probably only for people who want to roam internationally – in order to compensate for their losses, CRA said.

That will encourage customers looking for the best rates to use two mobile phone accounts: one for use only in their home country and another for use while travelling. Juggling two accounts with two phone numbers makes using mobile services unnecessarily complicated, CRA said.

Earlier this year, the EC said it is preparing regulations that would require operators to charge the same rates for international roaming as for national roaming. The EC has been urging operators to reduce their international roaming charges for several years, but says rates are still too high. Most operators in Europe charge at least €1 (about £0.70) per minute for customers to make and receive calls while roaming internationally.

CRA's study was commissioned by the GSMA (GSM Association), a trade group representing mobile operators around the world.

The study released yesterday isn't the first indication that mobile operators oppose the EC's initiative. When it opened a consultation earlier this year for creating the proposed legislation, the GSMA called the plan drastic and unnecessary.

But a variety of other organisations support the EC's move. The European Regulators Group, comprised of the heads of regulatory authorities in European countries, agrees that the cost of international roaming is too high, and supports the regulation initiative.

The National Consumer Council, a group in the UK that advocates for consumer rights, also supports the initiative, according to Janice Allen, a spokesperson for the group. She called the report commissioned by the GSMA "an obvious kneejerk reaction from an industry threatened by having its revenues reduced".

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