Roaming fees to drop by 40%?

It looks as though the EU hasn’t been too impressed with the mobile industry’s attempts at self-regulation on roaming charges. At CeBIT, Ministers from the 27 European Union countries have agreed in principle to cut roaming fees by up to 70%, with a new law due into effect by early July.

The exact levels have yet to be set. Viviane Reding, European IT commissioner and architect of the proposals, wants a retail cap of €0.44 per minute for making calls and €0.15 for receiving; the EU ministers are said to want calls at €0.50, the European Parliament is looking at €0.42, and at least one influential consumer group would prefer €0.33.

The likely compromise of about €0.45 would halve the estimated €10bn income the operators get each year from roaming fees.

The UK’s Margaret Hodge, minister of state for industry, was one of the last to approve the deal. She counselled against legislation that offered consumers a short-term gain but could simply result in mobile operators raising domestic charges to make good the lost roaming revenue.

Reportedly, Ms Hodge also argued for exemptions for operators who offer cross-border bundles such as Vodafone’s Passport, which come in at rates below any of the proposed caps. It’s likely that something like this will be included in the legislation, perhaps via an explicit opt-out from the ‘consumer protection tariff’.

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