European mobile phone firms hit by dawn raids

The European Union has raided all nine British and German mobile phone companies as part of the Union-wide investigation into price fixing, according to Competition Commissioner Mario Monti in Brussels.

LONDON (ZDNet UK)--The European Union has raided all nine British and German mobile phone companies as part of the Union-wide investigation into price fixing, according to Competition Commissioner Mario Monti in Brussels.

The raids took place on Wednesday morning, and are concerned with roaming charges between mobile networks in the two countries. Monti had previously stated that inter-network charges were relatively high, all tending to cost around one euro (about 60p) per minute.

At the time of writing, One2One, Orange and BT Cellnet confirmed that they had been visited by European Union officials, and said that they were co-operating fully. Vodafone could not be immediately contacted. German mobile company T-Mobile also confirmed the visit, but added that it had a "good conscience" and wasn't worried by what might be found.

The European Commission said it suspects "collective price fixing" by operators in the two countries. "The inspections also aim to verify whether German operators have illegally fixed the wholesale prices they charge to other operators," it said in a statement, adding "roaming prices are intransparent to consumers, rigid and at levels that are unrelated to the cost of carriage".

This isn't the first time that the EU commission has taken an interest in telecommunications pricing, previously criticising Deutsche Telekom for keeping call charges too high. The commission has been investigating the sector since January 2000, but this is the first multi-country coordinated dawn raid.

The price-fixing issue is taking on another level of importance with the dawn of 3G networks. Several carriers are cooperating to build their networks as a way of cutting costs, but regulators fear the practice could harm competition.

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