British mobile users face 'unfair' roaming cost increase
While Britons face new price increases for making mobile phone calls while travelling abroad, consumers who live in the 15 out of 27 countries which belong to the Eurozone will pocket savings of over six per cent.
The discrepancy will kick in on Saturday, August 30 because Brussels uses the Euro as the currency to calculate to annual maximum mobile phone roaming rates and the value of the pound has declined sharply against the European Single Currency since EU tariffs were first set last year.
Alan Duncan, Shadow Secretary for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, attacked as "unfair" the Brussels method of price fixing using a currency outside Britain and 11 other EU member states.
"This is a crazy way of looking at it. As a member of the EU we should be treated equitably," he said.
"Charges should be based on fairness and not on the arbitrary effect of currency fluctuations."
A European Commission spokesman argued that Britain must join the Euro if it wanted to get the full benefits of EU legislation aimed cutting mobile charges for travellers and holidaymakers.
"Exchange rates are not under the control of the Commission. There's nothing we can do. Only the UK can change this situation by joining the Euro. That is your decision," he said.
In August last year, the Commission moved to cut roaming charges to a flat rate Eurotariff of EUR 0.49, or 33p at the GBP 0.7867 exchange rate of July 30 2007, for making a mobile phone call while in another EU country.
On Thursday, Brussels made another scheduled cut to the Eurotariff reducing it to EUR 0.46 but at the same time resetting the exchange rate to the July 30 2008 figure of GBP 0.6753 giving a conversion of 36p a minute a nine per cent increase in real cost terms.
One British industry source said: "This is what happens when you have one-size-fits all regulations rather than allowing prices to be set by competition in the market."
Ofcom, Britain's telecoms regulator, welcomed the cut and explained that, outside the impact of currency fluctuations, the cost of mobile phone calls made while abroad are dropping for most Britons.
"UK consumers are already paying well below the new cap of EUR 0.46, the average prices for UK consumers is EUR 0.44 and has been for some time," said a spokesman. "We can not comment on exchange rates."
A Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform spokesman said: "UK customers have consistently paid rates that are below the new capped prices and this remains the case."
The Commission is expected to propose further legislation to crack down on overcharging by mobile phone operators later this year.
Brussels regulators are concerned that some mobile operators are charging by the minute rather than second for calls made while travelling between EU states.