Mobile industry awaits roaming verdict

As mobile operators eagerly await details of the European Commission's finalised proposals on slashing roaming fees, some reports suggest Commissioner Viviane Reding has been forced into a partial climbdown

The telecoms industry is on tenterhooks ahead of the publication of the European Commission's proposals for cutting roaming tariffs.

Amid reports on Tuesday that the original proposals may be watered down, the GSM Association suggested that while it might consider a compromise solution, it would "balk at any reduction" in charges.

"We would welcome any dilution, but we're still concerned that regulation could do some damage," GSM Association spokesman David Pringle told ZDNet UK on Tuesday, adding: "The devil is in the detail".

The proposals are expected to be issued in a finalised form by EU Information Society and Media commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday. They will almost certainly call for a cap on the wholesale price charged by mobile networks who host users of other networks from other countries.

Reports in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal suggested that Reding's opponents — specifically trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen — have won a victory over the contentious issue of forcing operators to abolish the cost of receiving a call while roaming.

To enforce such a move would mean regulating the retail cost of roaming, one facet of Reding's proposals that is bitterly opposed by mobile operators.

Pointing to the charges levied by the host network on the roamer's operator, Pringle told ZDNet that the most recently issued drafts of the Commission's proposals "had no scope for the operator to recover those costs".

Reports have suggested that operators will still be able to charge for receiving roaming calls, but also that such costs will be regulated.

There have also been indications that Reding may grant operators a grace period before the introduction of any price caps. Some reports put that period at three months, while others suggest six.

However, Pringle also argued that capping wholesale roaming charges would favour larger operators due to their enhanced economies of scale, saying the GSM Association was "concerned that that kind of pan-European cap could affect smaller players and new entrants".

Commissioner Reding had originally proposed capping the retail prices levied by operators for roaming. Pringle claimed such a move would "prevent operators from distinguishing themselves from each other" through, for example, charging less per minute for a longer roaming call.