Consumer group hits carriers over high roaming fees

European consumers' group BEUC claimed that telecom companies have failed to make real cuts to charges for using a phone abroad, saying much-publicized price reductions were a 'smokescreen' to stave off a regulatory price cap, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report quoted a study from the group as saying that 'excessive' roaming fees have not come down despite the introduction of new schemes by operators last summer under threat of an EU-wide price limit.

The report further said offers from operators such as Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile and France Telecom's Orange are very complex, difficult to use, and have no appreciable effect on charges overall, according to the BEUC, the European Consumers Organization.

'Their main function is as a smokescreen,' BEUC director Jim Murray was quoted by the report as saying..

BEUC economist Dominique Forest said customers were not given a deal that corresponds to their needs, citing the Orange Europe package for French users that gives a special rate for 40 minutes of calls made from abroad every month, the report added.

He recommended a cap for retail prices of 33 euro cents ($0.43) a minute for a customer calling home from abroad. The EU executive says operators charge consumers about euro1.15 ($1.51), the report said.

Vodafone said last year that the average cost to its customers for calls in Europe would fall from more than 89 euro cents ($1.14) a minute to less than 55 euro cents ($0.70) a minute by April.