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Reding vows Autumn assault on EU data roaming charges

Operators ordered to facilitate ski-texting

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Vivian Reding has pledged to get legislation to slash text and data roaming charges on the legislative agenda by October, after an investigation found that roaming charges were still up to ten times more expensive than home network charges.

In a statement today, the commission said it had hoped that following its cap on voice roaming charges last year, competition would bring down data prices.

“In February 2008, Commissioner Viviane Reding gave mobile operators the opportunity to avoid regulation by asking them to voluntarily and credibly bring the prices for text messages down by 1 July,” it said.

But even the threat of the wrath of Reding didn't bring operators to their senses. “This evidence shows that text and data roaming prices have remained too high compared to the actual costs incurred by operators," the statement continues. "As a result, the Commission is examining how to make proportionate proposals to the European Parliament and the Council in autumn in order to resolve Europe's continuous roaming problem."

Reding said “consumers should feel at ease when sending a text message from the beaches of Spain or when skiing in the Alps”. So presumably operators will have to provide private medical cover as well.

It will be for the EU parliament and council of ministers to decide whether to adopt the plans. However, given that caps on roaming charges is one the few EU actions that citizens actually sit up and take notice of, we can’t imagine they’ll scupper the plans.

The commission’s investigation found that roaming text charges cost an average €0.29, but can range from €0.06 a pop to as much as €0.50 or even €0.80. No prizes for guessing the €0.50 charge is for UK punters.

Reding’s enforcers say these charges “cannot be explained or justified by the costs which operators pay when a mobile customers from another country uses their network to send a message”. The European Regulators Group reckons €0.11 or €0.15 a text would be reasonable.

“Bill shock” is an even bigger problem for data roamers, with unbundled charges ranging from €5 to €10 per megabyte. Data roaming is discouraged, the commission notes, because of the charges - but it also said a lack of transparency means customers are still exposed to horribly high charges when they inadvertently download large amounts of data while travelling.

Funnily enough, the commission said that operators were against regulation, saying market forces would rapidly bring down costs. Well, they certainly will now. ®

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