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EU to push through more roaming caps in 2012

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Operators should brace themselves for more caps on European roaming, as the European parliament is planning more pricing restrictions when the current legislation expires.

The current caps run out at the end of June 2012, but before then the European parliament plans to have more regulation in place – with stronger caps reflecting the inability of competitive pressure to push down prices as well as the lack of any alternative strategy.

"The situation is disappointing. The high level of voice, SMS and data roaming prices payable by users is a matter of concern" said Angelika Niebler, the German MEP tasked with steering the new legislation through parliament.

As well as placing limits on prices, both retail (what operators charge customers) and wholesale (what operators charge each other) the Commission will be looking at more structural changes to bring greater competitive pressure into play.

One approach might be to offer travellers a list of local operators from which they can select their preferred roaming partner. Most EU operators will happily roam to any alternative network, and users can override the preference (which is programmed into their SIM) by manually selecting a different network – but a tiny proportion of users know that's possible, and an even smaller number make use of the facility.

Opponents argue that it's asking too much of users to compare prices while they're travelling, but without genuine competition there's little incentive to keep prices low so the EU is forced to use the blunt instrument of caps on pricing.

The Industry Research and Energy Committee will vote on the ideas around the end of February, just in time for the annual industry shindig in Barcelona, and the intention is to get the new regulations in front of the Plenary by April. ®

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