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Reding sets 1 July deadline for data roaming charge cuts

Operators say operators should set prices

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Mobile World Congress EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has warned mobile executives in Barcelona today that she will impose caps on roaming charges for data and text messaging if they do not cut prices by 1 July.

The commissioner, encouraged by her success in slashing voice roaming charges, is at Mobile World Congress to rattle the sabre.

She said: "I have no appetite at all for regulating again. But to avoid regulation, the industry will have to show its responsiveness to consumer concerns by credible reductions of the cost for data roaming both at the wholesale and at the retail level."

The EU says reports of citizens receiving massive data and SMS bills after visits to other member states are unnacceptable and contrary to its single market principles.

Reding's similar attack on voice charges led to new pan-EU regulations coming into force on 30 June last year, despite strong lobbying from operators and governments on behalf of operators.

Mobile firms have now been set a specific target on roaming text messages. Reding said any more than three cents on top of the domestic cost of a text is intolerable.

On data the targets leave more room for manoeuvre because the market for mobile internet services is less developed. Mobile bosses have been told to make their roaming charge structures more transparent, offer at least one package designed for roaming users and cooperate to reduce wholesale charges as a priority.

If, on 1 July Reding's office judges they have met these targets, the industry could avoid more regulations.

Last week, a group of five European operators agreed to a pre-emptive cut in data charges. Reding said she expects other operators to follow suit.

Today, however, the GSM Association claimed that the deadline threatened to "stifle innovation" and "stunt the development of new data offerings for roaming". It said individual operators should be allowed to set their own prices in response to competition.

In her announcement, Reding was critical of national regulators for failing to support her initiative on voice roaming. She is pushing plans for a permanent EU-wide telecoms regulator, a move opposed in the UK by Ofcom.

Ofcom boss Ed Richards seems to have realised that her success on voice charges has strengthened Reding's case for a European super-regulator. At the end of January he sought to take the initative on data and SMS roaming. He may have trouble convincing his colleagues in the European Regulators Group (ERG, the bureaucracy of national regulators) to act swiftly, however.

Reding said: "It is unfortunate that apparently the many meetings that national telecoms regulators have throughout the year in the ERG, for which national taxpayers pay quite a lot of money, do not yield better results on an important cross-border issue such as roaming." ®

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