Kroes warns operators over 'rip-off' data roaming costs

Most Europeans are still too scared to use their phones while roaming in the continent due to what they see as high prices, a European Commission survey has revealed.The survey, published on Monday, showed that 72 percent of travellers limit their roaming calls, despite the fact that most people know prices have fallen since Commission-imposed price caps came into force in 2007.

Most Europeans are still too scared to use their phones while roaming in the continent due to what they see as high prices, a European Commission survey has revealed.

The survey, published on Monday, showed that 72 percent of travellers limit their roaming calls, despite the fact that most people know prices have fallen since Commission-imposed price caps came into force in 2007. Just 19 percent of those who use mobile data roaming think the prices charged for that service are fair.

"Telecom companies must listen to their customers. Consumers feel there is still much room for improvement, particularly for data roaming," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "As I promised in the Digital Agenda for Europe, I intend to ensure better roaming solutions for European citizens and businesses."

Also on Monday, Kroes addressed operators at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. She said a consultation into roaming, which closed on Friday, also showed that most respondents think roaming rates have to come down further. The consultation and the survey will both feed into an upcoming revision to Europe's current data roaming cap policies, due to come into force in July 2012.

"Most stakeholders believe that competition is not yet sufficiently strong; they advocate further intervention after 2012," Kroes said. "This is certainly the view of consumer groups and all of the national regulatory authorities. But I think it is also important to point out that several mobile operators share these concerns when it comes to wholesale charges.

"Today voice roaming prices within Europe are still more than three times the level of domestic charges. Average charges for roaming offers other than the Euro-tariff are even higher. And for data roaming the position is even grimmer. The consumer often pays less than five cents for downloading a megabyte of data at home, but this may turn into €2.60 per megabyte when the same consumer crosses an invisible border."

Kroes said that, although wholesale prices have been capped, "consumers aren't seeing that matched in lower retail prices, and that is the true measure of competition". She referred to current retail prices for data roaming as "rip-offs".

"While you know I would prefer to simply rely on competition to ensure that the market operates, rather than engage in further regulation, the fact is that the industry has not to date given me much hope that this would spontaneously happen," Kroes said, adding that several options were available to her regarding what to do after July 2012.

These options range from letting people buy roaming services independently of their domestic subscriptions to mandating wholesale data roaming access at "cost-oriented prices" for virtual operators — Virgin Mobile, which uses Everything Everywhere's network, is an example of such an operator . "This could allow the emergence of new pan-European roaming operators whose business model is based on accepting smaller margins than traditional players," Kroes said.

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