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EU poised for vote on roaming cap

Could reduce charges by 70 per cent

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The EU committee on Industry, Research and Energy is to vote this morning on a proposal to cap the amount network operators can charge for roaming within the EU, potentially reducing the cost of roaming by 70 per cent.

The committee found that international roaming costs between 10 per cent and 20 per cent more than in-country use, but current charges are often 100 per cent more, or worse, justifying the need for legislation.

The idea is to cap the amount operators can charge for wholesale access to their network, and then cap the amount that operators can charge their customers to 130 per cent of that.

This approach has the benefit of simplicity and will automatically be applied to all EU mobile phone users if the vote goes through. The alternative, offering a fixed-price Euro tariff to all customers, has been rejected as it requires customers to opt-in and thus be educated as to its existence.

The vote is very likely to go though. Even the GSMA, which represents the mobile industry, seems to accept that some form of cap is inevitable and has reduced itself to lobbying on the amounts concerned.

Proposals to date have talked about prices as low as €0.15 for receiving a call, and €0.40 for making one, while the GSMA reckons its members can't make money charging less than €0.35 for incoming and €0.65 for outgoing calls.

Some operators have shown themselves more than willing to be flexible on European roaming, especially where the company operates in more than one country. In the UK most operators offer some form of cheap roaming tariff, though this hasn't been enough to deter regulators who are also threatening to legislate on SMS and data charges unless the industry reduces prices markedly in the next few months.

Assuming the committee approves the measure, it will be up to the European Parliament to vote it into legislation in May. The hope is to have the tariff in operation by the summer, though the proposal itself accepts that it will take at least three months, and even up to a year, depending on legal challenges. ®

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