Kroes: Data-roaming caps must not hamper competition

Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has urged MEPs to push through new EU-wide roaming regulation, as she introduced measures to encourage in investment in broadband by non-telecoms companies

A capped pricing system is only one of a number of measures that needs to be implemented to ensure fair data-roaming deals for customers, the EU's digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has said.

Neelie Kroes

European commissioner Neelie Kroes has called for capped pricing to drive down data-roaming costs, while introducing measures to encourage private-sector investment in broadband. Photo credit: Neelie Kroes/Flickr

Capped pricing will only help drive down roaming prices if used in conjunction with "real consumer choice", Kroes told the European Parliament on Tuesday, while insisting that price regulation should not hamper operators from being able to provide services.

"We are now introducing these [retail price] caps for data roaming. But they must be set at the right level: to be a consumer safety net that leaves sufficient margins for competition to develop," Kroes said. "Caps that are too low will not be effective."

The EU's current Roaming Regulation expires in June 2012, and the European Commission presented proposals to replace those measures in July. The proposals would place a limit on retail prices for data roaming for the first time, bring down current caps on wholesale prices and allow customers to sign up for roaming contracts separate from their domestic mobile service. Kroes has said on multiple occasions that she wants the difference between European and domestic roaming to be "approaching zero" by 2015.

The commissioner urged the parliament to "achieve agreement [of the regulation] at first reading" in order to avoid the current regulation expiring before the new rules can be put into place.

"Users want a fairer deal and for charges to be reasonable, without fearing that their phone bill abroad will cost more than their holiday. I want this too," Kroes said. "But we should cure the disease, not merely [address] the symptoms. We need a lasting solution that delivers a new offer and genuine competition."

Connecting Europe Facility

During the address, Kroes also outlined a legislative proposal for the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which aims to make access to online services easier and more reliable. Under the CEF, the EU will invest €9bn (£7.74bn) in generating the infrastructure needed to underpin its 'every European digital' push.

Kroes said that achieving the goals of the scheme will require heavy investment in high-speed internet infrastructure from companies beyond the telecoms industry.

"The Connecting Europe Facility calls on a much wider range of prospective investors including utilities, institutional investors, equipment manufacturers and public authorities. In combination with other financial tools at EU, national and local level, this facility will increase our chances to reach the 2020 goals in high-speed internet," she said.

At least €7bn from the CEF will be used to create new financial schemes "to support investment of more than €50bn and up to €100bn" in high-speed broadband infrastructure, according to Kroes.

"The benefits which can be leveraged from the feed capital in infrastructure investment are tenfold," she said, while acknowledging that it will be a "challenge" to convince member states of the need to invest in information and communications technology.

If the investment is generated, "about 45 million households or over 100 million citizens and consumers" would be set up with faster connections, Kroes estimated. In addition, it would lead to more pan-European public services — such as e-government and e-health — coming online, she said.

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