Decline and fall of the roaming empires

On the cards since 2004, European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding is taking action against what she considers to be the excessive or even astronomical international roaming charges paid by cellphone users on European networks. And, as you might anticipate from an industry estimated to earn around $12 billion annually from roaming, the region's service providers don't like it one little bit.
In February Reding kicked off a round of consultations on the general idea of an EU regulation on roaming, launching the final phase of discussions on April 3. 
According to the EC, roaming prices have generally remained at the same high level across Europe since September 2005, and in some cases have even increased, despite warnings from the Commission to the industry that EU-wide regulation would be necessary if prices were not brought down. Nor have the special roaming packages offered by some operators provided much relief, having not been widely taken up by consumers since most are offered on an opt-in basis or may have an additional monthly charge attached to them.
The proposed EC roaming remedy includes wholesale regulation to foster cost-based inter-operator tariffs, and retail regulation that would eliminate all roaming charges for receiving calls, and introduce a home pricing principle for making calls while traveling abroad in the EU.
The service provider community's reaction was perhaps predictable. The EC's proposals were '"&brkbar;unprecedented, unnecessary and heavy-handed"&brkbar;' according to the GSM Association (GSMA). 'Enabling consumers to use their mobile phones on a pan-European basis is a value-added service and mobile operators should be able to charge a market-rate for roaming service,' argued GSMA board member and CEO Rob Conway.
The incumbents weren't too thrilled either. 'Such a heavy intervention, at both the wholesale and retail levels, would be unprecedented in the mobile market and appears disproportionate. It risks hampering competitiveness of the industry,' warned Michael Bartholomew, director of the European Telecommunications Network Operators association (ETNO).
But whatever the service providers plan next they'll have to be fleeter of foot than they were when it came to addressing the EU's concerns about over-charging in the first instance. The EC could adopt the current proposals by June and the regulation could come into effect by mid-2007.

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