MP slams mobile operators for 'profiteering' prices

Roaming Rip-Offs: Norman Lamb is demanding more transparency from the mobile industry about the true cost of using phones and datacards overseas

An MP has hit out at the UK's mobile operators for charging unfairly high rates when their customers access voice and data services abroad.

Norman Lamb, Liberal MP for North Norfolk, wants to force the operators to be more transparent about their charges, which he believes are unsustainably high.

"They're simply taking advantage of consumer ignorance and lack of knowledge to keep prices up as much as they can," said Lamb. "It demonstrates a market not working… and profiteering with no link to costs."

Earlier this month, ZDNet UK exposed the high prices that are charged when people use 3G datacards abroad. One reader found himself with an £800 bill after downloading less than 100MB of data in France and Germany.

Lamb stopped short of accusing the mobile operators of operating a cartel — a charge that is popular with some disgruntled users who have found themselves with a hefty bill after a trip abroad.

"There potentially needs to be an investigation into why prices are so high. Why is that?" Lamb said. He recently published his own research into the cost of making and receiving mobile calls abroad, in which he also found massive variations in charges for using mobiles abroad, plus a lack of transparency over billing.

While some mobile operators have been reluctant to defend their charges, there have been indications that the situation may improve. Mike Short, chairman of the MDA and vice-president of O2, said last week that prices are likely to drop once the market matures.

Lamb is also concerned that it can be hard for customers to actually discover how much they will be charged for using a mobile phone or datacard overseas.

"You have to search for this information on their Web sites," Lamb said. He added that it would be much better if the text messages sent to users when they arrive in a new country also told them the cost of using that network.

However, legislation to squash mobile rip-offs isn't likely to be introduced anytime soon.

"I am not advocating regulation to control charges, but the regulator could do more to name and shame," explained Lamb, who said he has written to the network operators, Ofcom, the European Union regulators group and the DTI in the hope of forcing the mobile industry to become more transparent.