EU commissioners clash over mobile roaming

Roaming Rip-Offs: It's Peter Mandleson versus Viviane Reding in the overseas roaming charges battle, and EC insiders believe opposition to Reding's proposals will be defeated

A row is brewing in the European Commission over plans to force mobile operators to slash their roaming charges, as discussions move into their political phase.

Commissioners will meet next week to discuss the proposals, which were made by the commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Reding will find herself up against trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who fear the cuts will damage the operators' competitiveness.

The operators themselves are hugely opposed to Reding’s proposals, which would see the charge for using a mobile phone outside the user’s home country — but still within the EU — cut to a maximum of 30 percent above the wholesale price for the call.

That said, the last few months have seen operators racing to pre-empt any regulation by making limited cuts to their roaming charges.

Sources within the EC have told ZDNet UK that the objections within the Commission fall into two broad streams. The first, from the trade commission, claims that Reding's proposals go against the principle of non-discrimination between World Trade Organization (WTO) members.

It is unclear how well this case would stand up. As one insider put it: "If you abolished the custom duties between the UK and Ireland, we are still allowed to keep custom duties for Thailand and the US."

Even if the trade commission's argument were to be held as valid, it's understood that a simple clause in Reding's legislation could keep her proposals afloat.

The industry commission is arguing that Reding is wrong to extend her proposals to retail rates, and says they should be limited to wholesale rates — the charges that operators levy on each other.

However, there is a strong feeling within the EC that savings made at the wholesale level have a poor record of being passed on to retail customers in the roaming market.

Furthermore, Reding's desire to abolish charges for receiving calls while abroad depends on regulation at the retail level, as that is where the charge is made.

It's thought that trade and industry are the only two out of the Commission's 25 constituent ministries to object to Reding's proposals. As the legislation will ultimately depend on a majority vote in the Commission "College", it seems unlikely that Reding will be defeated.

A spokesman for Mandelson's office told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that he would not "get drawn into commenting on the position of various commissioners", but said he was sure the "various perspectives that have been floated in the Commission" would be discussed in a week's time.


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