Tuesday, January 08, 2008

China - national roaming fees

Consumer Association in China Calls Mobile Operators to Lower Roaming Fees

Domestic roaming service charges by China's two monopolistic mobile phone providers are unreasonable and should be scrapped, or at least lowered, the Beijing Consumers' Association said in a statement on Monday.

The association, which worked to protect consumer's rights and interest, said high mobile roaming service fees were among its most frequently received complaints.

Most of the country's 539 million mobile subscribers paid between 33 to 50 percent more for phone calls made or received on their cell phones when they traveled to another province.

The mobile service providers said such service fees were charged to cover the extra operation costs incurred when cross-province calls were transferred from one local operator to another.

Experts, however, said new technologies had lowered operational costs -- some argued roaming calls actually incurred no extra cost for the operators.

The cutting of domestic roaming fees had also become a worldwide trend. "Many developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia have already scrapped roaming service fees," said Professor Zeng Jianqiu of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

China's National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Information Industry planned to hold a hearing in Beijing later this month to reset the ceiling price for domestic mobile roaming charges.

The hearing would be attended by five consumers -- including one from Beijing -- as well as representatives from mobile service providers, experts, scholars and relevant government officials.

The association said it had recommended two candidates, both of whom were familiar with the telecom market and rights protection laws and regulations. Another one would be chosen by China Consumers' Association to attend.

"The hearing will offer a platform for different interest groups. The process is in itself a step closer to our goal," a spokesman with the Beijing association said on condition of anonymity.

China currently had two mobile telecom service providers -- China Mobile and China Unicom.

As more people had complained about the telecom industry reaping handsome profit by charging monopolistic prices, since last year, the government had urged the companies to offer lower pricing packages and free incoming calls. Chinese mobile operators previously charged both the caller and the receiver.

Efforts to reform the monopoly industry have resulted in a 13.6 percent drop in 2007 in overall telecom charges in China, the Ministry of Information Industry said.

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