EU puts roaming charges in the dock
EUROPEAN regulators have increased pressure on mobile phone operators to change their billing practices as a result of a report that finds customers are being overcharged for calls made while they are travelling.
The minutes mobile phone users are billed exceed the duration of calls they make outside their home country "by a significant margin", the European Regulators Group, which represents national telecommunications authorities, says.
By billing users per-minute instead of for the actual call duration, companies can charge about 24 per cent more for calls made and 19 per cent more for calls received.
The European Commission may propose a review of a law adopted last year that capped prices for international calls from mobile phones to consider per-minute billing.
"These new figures by ERG are a strong indication that the review of the roaming regulation also has to tackle the issue of per-second billing," says Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for the commission's telecommunications unit.
Another proposal considered in October will be the commission's plan to cut overseas text messaging fees. Viviane Reding, the EU telecommunications commissioner, said in July companies "are ripping off the consumers".
David Pringle, a spokesman for the GSM Association, which represents more than 750 operators, said competition would suffer if regulators tried to "micromanage" the market.
At the moment, companies in most countries have the choice between offering users better rates on a per-minute or per-second basis. "To look at it in that amount of detail would prevent operators from having any flexibility," Mr Pringle said.
The European Regulators Group of telecommunications watchdogs from the 27 EU nations, said in its report on August 12 that prices charged across the EU for voice calls are "in full compliance" with the EU rules enacted in June 2007.
Still, average retail prices remain at, or just below, the maximum cap in about two-thirds of the EU countries, it says.
"This shows there continues to be a worrying lack of competition in the roaming market," Selmayr says.
The report was put together based on information provided by more than 140 mobile phone operators, including Vodafone Group, Telefonica and other providers of international roaming services in the EU, Iceland and Norway between April 2007 and March this year.