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Ofcom 'fails to support consumers' over mobile charges

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Ofcom has been slammed for failing to force mobile phone operators to cut the cost of making calls.

The giant communications regulator confirmed today that it will stick with current price controls until at least March 2007 and not impose lower charges on operators.

Last year Ofcom ordered cellcos to slash the cost of calls by around 30 per cent after a long running investigation by the then regulator Oftel.

At the time the cut in termination charges - which apply to mobile network operators' wholesale charges for connecting incoming calls to their networks - ended a regulatory saga that had dragged on for six years.

The price cut was due to run until the end of March 2006, after which consumer groups had hoped Ofcom would impose further price cuts on the industry.

Now the current regulatory framework is to be extended for another year, suggesting that punters will continue to have to pay high charges for making mobile calls.

Critics are lining up to hammer Ofcom.

A spokesman for price comparison service uSwitch.com said it was "disappointing that Ofcom did not make a move to force prices down further" especially since the "cost of calling a mobile is still higher than calling a landline".

Ian El-Mokadem, MD of telco Onetel, said some mobile operators were making a fortune from routing some calls and that punters were being overcharged.

"This is a surprising decision," he said. "It has been clear to many in the industry for some time that customers are being overcharged for a number of services relating to access to mobile networks - these include termination charges and also calls to international destinations."

Anthony Ball, director of mobile phone tariff comparison outfit onecompare.com added: "By failing to take action on so called termination charges Ofcom have failed to support the consumer.

"Confusion in the mobile phone market is the biggest barrier to consumers getting a better deal and axing these charges would lead to a more competitive market and more transparency for the consumer, all in all cheaper mobile phone bills with better packages."

A spokesman for the regulator told us: "Ofcom needs to find the right balance between protecting consumers and allowing businesses to operate effectively. We believe that in the call charge controls that were put in place in September 2004, we have found the right balance." ®

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