Saturday, June 07, 2008

Europe - roaming

European telecoms regulators call for extension of roaming regulation

The European Regulators Group (ERG), an independent body which groups all the European Union member states' telecoms regulators, said that there is a need to extend voice roaming regulation and to 'consider new measures to curb excesses in SMS roaming'.

'Preliminary data for the period October 2007 to March 2008 shows the new Eurotariff has successfully capped voice roaming charges', the ERG said in a statement following a meeting.

It added however that the data also shows 'prices clustered just below the cap -- indicating no evidence of price competition or tariff innovation'.

In mid-2007, European telecoms ministers approved the Commission's proposals to cap charges for calls made abroad.

Retail charges are capped at 0.49 euro per minute for calls made and 0.24 euro per minute for calls received, and will also be gradually reduced over three years.

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has warned that prices for SMS and data roaming services remain high and are widely divergent across member states, stepping up the pressure on mobile companies to do more to cut charges for text messages sent from abroad or face regulation.

Service providers must also offer customers sufficient transparency when using data roaming to avoid unexpectedly high bills, the ERG said.

It added that hidden surcharges resulting from the practice of billing per minute are 'alarming'.

The ERG will advise the European Commission and the European Parliament on the need for further regulation ahead of a further round of reform of the rules governing the telecoms sector.

In November, the commission will put forward a new package of proposals, but it has already set a July 1 deadline for mobile companies to lower their SMS and data roaming charges on a voluntary basis or face regulation.

Seeking to avoid mandatory price caps, operators, including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Netherland's KPN, have announced cuts in their prices for surfing the web or downloading files while travelling outside a home state in the 27-nation bloc.

But the ERG feels more needs to be done.

As things stand, we shall be advising continued regulation of voice roaming along with extension to SMS roaming', ERG Chairman Daniel Pataki said.

He was, however, less convinced of the need for regulation on data roaming.

Critics have argued that competitive pressure among operators is already bringing down prices, and that regulation would stifle competition.

'The case for retail price control in data roaming is more finely balanced, given the early stage of development of this market and the importance of not stifling incentives to invest', Pataki said.

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