EU Rejects Plan To Scrap Mobile Roaming Charges

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
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Committee of MEPs instead opts for another round of price cuts, prompting a mixed reaction

A plan to eliminate mobile roaming charges by 2014 within the European Union has been defeated.

A committee of MEPs decided against implementing the plan, instead deciding on another round of price cuts this summer. The changes should see the cost of making a call drop from 30p a minute to 21p a minute, while the cost of sending a text should be reduced to 7p.

No need for roaming

Not everyone was pleased with outcome, with Peter Skinner, MEP for the South East of England stating that roaming should be scrapped entirely.

“There’s no need for phone companies to have any roaming charges at all,” he said in a blog post. “Phone companies are still using international travel as a way of ripping off customers. Roaming charges should be scrapped altogether but this compromise will bring down phone and data roaming charges across the EU in time for this year’s summer holidays.”

“Airwaves know no international borders so it’s crazy for customers to pay loads for a phone call from Dover to Calais twenty one miles away, while Dover to the Shetlands, hundreds of miles away off the coast of Scotland, costs much less,” he added.

Compulsory maximum roaming rates were first imposed on mobile networks nearly five years ago, but reaction from networks is mixed. The moves have been welcomed by Three, which had previously thrown its weight behind the proposals, but have prompted Vodafone to threaten that operators would stop investing in their networks if the costs were imposed.

Stand off

“We support the Commission’s efforts to reduce roaming prices,” said Christian Salbaing, deputy chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Europe, Three’s parent company. “The committee’s proposed data caps will pave the way for greater competition and lower consumer prices. This proposal is a great result for smartphone and mobile data users across Europe. We urge the parliament to make these proposals a reality.”

“Does Europe need employment or does Europe need rate cuts?” commented Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao at MWC. “We should stop having this continuous intervention on prices and let the industry reinvest the money.”

The idea of scrapping roaming charges has been championed by Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who responded to Vodafone’s comments with a statement reaffirming her belief that the removal of such charges was important to the economy and that she did not respond well to threats.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona the day before the decision, she said that the charges posed as a barrier to Europeans receiving the best value from the single market.

“I am looking forward to a good result on roaming,” she said. “Such an agreement must secure a truly competitive Single Market for roaming services, with more choice and much lower consumer prices. Essentially through competitive market mechanisms. Including for large data users. In particular, we need a solution that is easy for consumers to understand and use. “