Europe’s mobile phone industry will continue to fight plans to regulate roaming charges, even though Germany, the European Commission and the European Parliament appear dead set on imposing them, said the GSM Association.
Germany, Europe’s biggest country, is using its six-month presidency of the European Union to push through a regulation capping both wholesale and retain roaming prices customers pay for using their mobile phones outside of the country they live in.
It has vowed to push through a roaming regulation by the end of its presidency at the end of June.
However, the GSM Association believes that caps on retail prices can still be avoided. "There is a strong lobby against retail regulations," said David Pringle, the association’s spokesman.
“Most sensible politicians would see retail regulation only as a last resort. Most national markets in Europe have healthy competition with four operators competing for customers,” he added.
Countries wanting to avoid retail price caps include the UK and France. Officials in both countries prefer to regulate at the wholesale level - the prices carriers charge each other for roaming calls across different networks.
The German government wants retail prices capped at €0.49 (£0/32) for outgoing calls and €0.25 (£0.16) for incoming calls. These limits are very close to the caps the European Commission proposed for a regulation it tabled last year, said Martin Selmayr, the Commission’s spokesman on telecom-related issues.
"The German proposal is almost identical to the Commission’s," he said, adding that Germany’s intervention is "very helpful and should ensure that we have a regulation in place by the summer”.
Meanwhile, European parliamentarians attending a hearing in Brussels yesterday called for additional curbs on the cost to consumers of sending SMS messages and data over their mobiles while abroad.
They also called for rules that would force mobile phone operators to reveal the roaming charges as soon as a call has been made.
"I want more transparency in regard to the price structure on the basis of real-time information," said Paul Rubig, an Austrian conservative member of the European Parliament.
"Whoever uses their mobile phone abroad must be informed immediately of the costs. Calling home from the beach on holiday must not be more expensive than the flight," he said during a press conference after the hearing.
Pringle said the mobile phone industry supports calls for greater price transparency. "Transparency is important, it’s just a question of how you achieve it that has to be answered," he said.
But he dismissed calls for caps on SMS and data-roaming charges. "No one has produced one jot of evidence supporting a case for regulating data or SMS. There are processes politicians should follow before they start legislating and there’s been no attempt to look at the data and SMS markets."
"Data in particular is a service in a very early stage of development. Applying a regulatory blanket now could stifle the market before it’s even become established," he said.
EU telecoms ministers will debate Germany’s and the Commission’s plans for a regulation when they meet informally in March at the Cebit IT exhibition in Hanover, Germany. Selmayr said the European Parliament could vote on a regulation as early as April.