EU: Mobile Operators Not Getting Message Over Roaming


European Union telecommunications commissioner Viviane Reding Tuesday accused mobile phone operators of not getting her “message” that roaming charges are too high.

At a press conference announcing long-awaited proposals to force wireless operators to cut the fees customers pay while traveling abroad, Reding said she had “repeatedly warned” operators to cut the charges. But operators hadn’t moved to reduce their prices.

“Mobile operators seem to have some difficulty in understanding my message,” she said.

The initiative represents one of the more aggressive pieces of legislation proposed by the Commission and comes as wireless operators battle slowing sales growth and intensifying competition in mature European markets.

Under the proposal, companies must eliminate all roaming charges for receiving a call when traveling abroad. If the idea becomes regulation, for example, a Finn traveling to Spain would be charged the same rate as a Spaniard making a call.

Before she spoke, operators contested these charges. The GSM Association, which represents European mobile equipment makers and operators, sees competition bringing roaming prices down by 8% a year.

At the press conference, Reding showed irritation with the phone operators. It is unreasonable, she said, that Europeans return home from travels within the European Union and find that they pay exorbitant prices to keep in touch with their family. The high prices were unjustified by any additional costs incurred by operators for connecting international calls, she said.

Reding said she didn’t believe the regulation would force up the cost of local calls in order to compensate for lost revenues from roaming. Competition is so strong in local markets that operators won’t be able to impose price hikes, she insisted.

The Commission is conducting separate investigations into Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, among others, for breaking antitrust rules in their roaming charges. At her press conference, Reding said she was working closely with EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

“We have ongoing roaming investigations,” she said. “Those will not be touched.”

Reding said operators now will have a chance to submit their opinions on her proposal, starting on April 2 and ending on April 28. She planned to conduct a full “impact study” on the measure’s impacts and submit the final proposal for approval from governments. She said she hoped the final regulation would be in place by the middle of 2007.

By the “summer of 2007,” she said she “hoped Europeans could go on holidays without having fears” of a high mobile telephone bill.