EU to regulate on mobile roaming after all

The EU wants to regulate on international roaming charges

Germany is pushing to introduce legislation on international mobile roaming charges before its presidency of the European Union ends on 30 June. But the European mobile phone industry is opposing the plans.

Both the European Commission and the European Parliament want to legislate on international roaming charges as of June. Germany is demanding a price cap of 49 euro cents (32p) on outgoing calls, and 25 euro cents (16p) for incoming calls, it said at a hearing in Brussels yesterday.

The new laws to be introduced in June are to regulate call charges for mobile phone users travelling to countries other than their own, as well as capping wholesale prices. Germany's proposal is very similar to the one the EC proposed last year, according to Martin Selmayr, EC spokesman on telecom-related issues.

"The German proposal is almost identical to the Commission's," Selmayr said. "Germany's intervention is very helpful and should ensure that we have a regulation in place by the summer.

However, several countries - including the UK and France - are opposing the plans. They would prefer any regulations to be introduced at an operator level, in the form of caps on wholesale prices (the price operators charge each other for roaming calls across networks), instead of regulating the cost for the end user.

Industry opposes legislation

The European mobile phone industry, led by the GSM Association , is fighting an increasingly hard battle against the EC and its attempts to regulate roaming charges. A spokesman for the organisation said the market would be able to manage roaming charges, without the need for regulation.

"There is a strong lobby against retail regulations," said David Pringle, the association's spokesman.

"Most sensible politicians would see retail regulation only as a last resort. Most national markets in Europe have healthy competition with four operators competing for customers," Pringle added.

There are also demands on better transparency and real-time information about existing pricing structures.

"Whoever uses their mobile phone abroad must be informed immediately of the costs. Calling home from the beach on holiday must not be more expensive than the flight," Paul Rubig, an Austrian member of the European Parliament said.

Telecoms ministers from the EU member states will debate the plans for a regulation put forward by Germany and the Commission when they meet informally at the CeBIT exhibition in Hanover, Germany, in March. Selmayr said the European Parliament could vote on a regulation as early as April.