The EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding’s ambitious plan to force down the costs of international mobile calls in the Union looked under threat yesterday following the announcement of an Anglo-French proposal designed to limit its scope. Ms Reding is calling for price caps on the rates that operators are allowed to charge people for making and receiving calls while travelling in EU countries. However, Vodafone Group and France Télécom have voiced concerns that her proposal to cut retail roaming rates as well as wholesale charges could negatively impact on competition. The two countries are instead putting forward a watered-down plan including measures such as a voluntary code under which cellcos could decide to cut customers’ costs voluntarily via a so-called ‘sunrise’ clause. In this way, retail roaming rate regulation would only come into effect for those firms that failed to drop their charges to the agreed rate within six months of the new rules coming into play. According to UK newspaper The Financial Times, this differs from the EU commissioner’s plan which calls for an immediate cap on retail roaming rates.
Major telecoms operators across Europe have baulked at the EU’s plans to reduce international roaming fees and as such, the Anglo-French proposal marks something of a shift forward towards a possible solution. Ultimately the big operators would like to see the plan dropped altogether, but Ms Reding is determined to redress the problem of excessive roaming charges – she says that some Europeans are forced to pay rates that are four times higher than the cost of a national call – and her proposal to cut roaming prices by up to 70% is one of the most popular to come out of Brussels for years.
The Anglo-French move has reportedly received initial support from most of the 25 member states involved, but EU officials counter that it is ‘impractical’. Commenting on the measures and the controversial sunrise clause, Ms Reding said: ‘It sounds very nice but if you look at what it will produce, it will be a catastrophe.’