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European roaming campaign gathers pace

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This week the European Commission underlined its call for reduced roaming charges from cellular operators across Europe, by launching a website giving details of some of the outrageous charges that are still operating between European operators.

The website launch comes after criticisms from the GSM Association that the EU was out of date, claiming that charges had already changed dramatically reduced.

Instead, the new website shows continued excessive roaming charges with some that have risen during the past year instead of falling, as the GSMA claimed.

The updated website clearly shows that the price for a standard four minute call has generally remained at the same high level across Europe since September 2005 and in some cases has even increased, despite warnings from the commission to the industry that EU-wide regulation would be necessary if prices were not brought down.

The EC Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding recently proposed the introduction of an EU regulation to be fast tracked by next year to eliminate unjustified roaming charges.

"We strongly support Commissioner Reding’s commitment to address this enduring problem”, added Kip Meek, chief policy partner at Ofcom, the UK telecom regulator, who is also president of the European Regulators Group (ERG), the body which brings together the EU’s 25 national telecom regulators and advises the commission.

"The ERG is very committed to working together with commissioner Reding to come up with a practical, proportionate and speedy mechanism for getting retail roaming prices down by a substantial margin."

The updated commission website just a few days ago is available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish and shows that for a four minute call, roaming prices still vary from as little as €0.20 for a Finnish consumer calling home from Sweden, to €13.05 for a four minute call by a Maltese consumer in Latvia. In some cases, roaming prices have even increased over the past six months and one UK operator has just increased the price for roaming from €3.45 to €4.92 when consumers call home across the EU.

The new EU regulation will address wholesale prices based on actual cost to the local operator and ensure that operator savings at the wholesale level are actually passed on to the consumer. And one of the most controversial ideas is that the new regulation may get rid of payments made by the recipient of a call when traveling overseas in the EU.

Another idea under discussion is the "home pricing" principle, whereby a mobile customer traveling abroad in the EU would always be charged only the prices that he is used to paying in his country of residence. Currently, when a call is routed from one overseas visitor to another standing next to him, the payment is based on the call being routed back through his home country, whereas in fact it is routed through just the local base station after an initial look up.

The commission has already held a first phase of consultations on the general idea of an EU regulation on international roaming and will now prepare a new regulation for voting by the European Parliament.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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