The European Commission plans to propose cuts to the cost of roaming text messages, while it will continue to investigate the need for regulation on data roaming.
Network representative group the GSM Association (GSMA) hit out at the EC’s proposals, while 3 UK voiced its support. The European Regulators’ Group is to put forward a price cap of between €0.11 (9p) and €0.15 per SMS.
Figures released by the EC show that the average cost of a roaming text message in the EU between October 2007 and March 2008 was €0.29 according to the European Regulators’ Group (ERG), but can be as high as €0.80 for travellers from Belgium. It said calls to the industry for voluntary price reductions had not been answered.
EC president Jose Manuel Barroso said: "Europe’s Single Market should be allowed to play its part, making sure that no borders re-appear on travellers’ phone bills.
"I am particularly concerned by the high prices paid by consumers for text messages when they are travelling abroad. There is also a danger that European businesses are put off by non-transparent roaming costs for mobile data services. The Commission will closely work together with the European Parliament and the Council to find swift responses to Europe’s data roaming problems."
EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding added: "Roaming charges have already drained the wallets of mobile customers too much. It is not a good sign for the competitiveness of Europe’s mobile industry that it still hasn’t got the message that credible price reductions are needed to avoid regulation.
"I will therefore recommend to my fellow Commissioners that we propose a regulation of SMS roaming in October. We will also have to discuss in which way to address data roaming, which continues to be heavily overpriced."
GSMA chief government and regulatory affairs officer Tom Phillips said that the group’s research had shown that the average price of an EU roaming SMS had actually dropped 18 per cent in the past year because of new networks tariffs and text bundles.
Said Phillips: "The EC’s proposals to single out yet another aspect of the mobile industry and apply retail price regulation, threatens to choke growth and stifle competition.
“Many operators have introduced bundles of text messages for roamers, which can result in a price of just €0.10 euro cents per message for those who make full use of their bundle or daily tariffs – already within the price caps range suggested by the ERG.
"The Commission’s fixation with regulating common mobile prices across the EU is widespread. Different markets have inherently different costs, whether from variations in tax or, for example labour rates. These services should be priced based on local market conditions, not on some vision of a single Europe, originating in Brussels. The trend towards roaming packages and other innovative tariffs will continue, demonstrating the competitive nature of the market."
Phillips added that mobile operators were already improving transparency around data roaming prices and reducing the likelihood of unexpected bills with offerings such as flat fee bundles.
3 UK chief executive Kevin Russell welcomed the EC’s proposals.
"We share the Commission’s concerns that data prices remain too high," said Russell. “The recent cuts of up to 40 per cent for data are not an effective response to Ms Reding’s challenge, as even then customers are still being charged more than 100 times what they are charged at home for using mobile internet services while roaming.
"The industry has failed to get wholesale prices down to levels at which the market for data can take off and, therefore, regulatory action is necessary. We have offered every operator in Europe a reciprocal wholesale data roaming deal of €0.25 per MB, but only five out of more than 90 networks have taken us up on it."