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Roaming charges are set to plummet after European ministers supported plans to cap the fees, but some countries are supporting watered down proposals.

EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding wants to cut prices by up to 70 percent before next summer, allowing European mobile users to make cheaper phone calls on their summer holidays.

The move is no surprise to industry watchers - the Commission put forward the proposal in July, claiming that the prices charged to roam on networks when abroad were excessive.

However, it is not yet a done deal - Britain, backed by France, is also trying to throw a spanner in the works. UK Industry minister Margaret Hodge claims enforced price cuts would be too much for the phone companies to bear, and is instead seeking more time for mobile operators to adopt voluntary price cuts. This could delay the introduction of regulation.

Some 14 countries preferred that the regulation of the industry be introduced only as a last resort. However, Reding is not keen on the idea, as she claims it would be too complex to monitor the price cuts of the individual tariffs of each mobile operator to see if they had fallen enough.

The proposed cap will also be debated by the European Parliament. "The first reading of the European Parliament is expected to be completed in the first quarter 2007. The new EU regulation can therefore be expected to enter into effect before the end of the German Presidency (end of June 2007)," the Telecoms council said in a statement.

The meeting on Monday discussed issues such as how much scope operators should have at wholesale level to deal with roaming charges, what services the price regulation should cover and how much regulation should be put in place at retail level.

However, while consumers may be eagerly awaiting the price cuts, the mobile operators have strongly resisted the moves. They have also made some progress towards cutting the charges themselves. Irish operators O2, Vodafone and Three Ireland have abolished roaming charges across Ireland and Britain. Roaming charges around the EU have also fallen by about 18 per cent, but this was not sufficient to stop Reding introducing the proposed regulation.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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