EU moves to reduce roaming charges

28 Mar 2006

The European Commission is planning to impose new regulations in June aimed at reducing the ‘excessive’ prices that mobile operators charge for roaming.

The commission’s updated website of international roaming charges which goes live today (Tuesday, 28 March) indicates that the price for a standard four-minute call has generally remained at the same high level across Europe since September 2005.

In some cases the price has even increased, despite warnings from the commission to the industry.

“It is high time that the EU’s internal market delivered substantially lower communication charges for consumers and business people travelling abroad,” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “I therefore propose that an EU regulation be used to eliminate all unjustified roaming charges.

“A mobile phone customer should not be charged a higher tariff just because he is travelling abroad,” Reding said.

The updated website shows that roaming tariffs remain, in general, excessively high but vary widely between operators, from a low of €0.20 for a Finnish consumer calling home from Sweden to a high of €13.05 for a four-minute call by a Maltese consumer in Latvia. Only in a few exceptional cases has some progress been made. In Ireland, for instance, the commission’s first announcement of regulatory measures on roaming was followed by the elimination of roaming charges by several operators for travellers to the UK.

“We strongly support Commissioner Reding’s commitment to address this enduring problem,” added Kip Meek, president of the European Regulators Group (ERG), the body which brings together the EU’s 25 national telecom regulators and advises the commission.

It is proposed that the new EU regulation will address inter-operator tariffs to ensure that operators do not charge operators from other countries substantially more than the cost.

Reding proposes to ensure that operator savings at the wholesale level are actually passed to consumers. The commission also proposes regulation at the retail level.

Importantly, Reding proposes a new EU regulation that could eliminate all roaming charges for receiving a call when travelling abroad in the EU.

It is also envisaged that for calls made while travelling in the EU a new regulation could see the introduction of the ‘home pricing’ principle, whereby roaming callers are only charged the prices they are used to paying in their own countries.

Following a detailed impact assessment, it is envisaged that the commission could adopt the new proposal in June if it receives the approval of the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.

By John Kennedy