UK tries to stall mobile-roaming controls

National telecoms ministers urge the EC to give operators a chance to cut their own roaming charges, rather than forcing retail price cuts

The European Commissioner in charge of telecommunications has warned that proposals to delay retail pricing controls on roaming are not in the best interests of consumers.

Viviane Reding claimed on Monday that countries — such as the UK — arguing for a so-called "sunrise clause" on such pricing controls "want to delay a reduction in prices for several years", adding: "Let them explain that to consumers".

Reding spoke after a meeting of national telecoms ministers approved her proposal to introduce controls on the wholesale prices charged between operators when the customer is roaming between countries, cutting them by as much as 70 percent.

However, countries including France and the UK argued at the meeting that mobile operators should then be given six months to rebalance their final pricing, before a decision is made on whether they should be forced to cut the retail charges levied on customers themselves.

Reding said this sort of grace period on retail pricing controls would be too complicated to implement, as the Commission would then have to judge the operators' performance against certain criteria before imposing the controls. "How are we to assess whether these conditions are met?" she asked.

Reding is adamant that the cost of using a mobile phone overseas within the EU is excessive today, and believes that this won't change without retail regulation. In June, she insisted that "the retail regulation will automatically come into force without any further ado after six months. If the operators by then have brought down their prices, then the effect on the operators of this retail regulation will be nothing."

A statement from the operator's lobbying body in Brussels, the European Telecommunications Network Operator's Association (ETNO), urged the ministers debating the proposals to "avoid reducing operators' ability to invest and provide consumer choice in a sector which is one of the main drivers of Europe's growth and competitiveness".

The industry has long been lobbying against the Commission's campaign for lower roaming rates within the EU, which the Commission claims are essential "in the interests of consumers".