Report: European Commission knife hovers over data roaming charges

The European Commission will soon propose legislation capping retail prices for data roaming, according to a Reuters report.

The report, which cited unnamed sources, suggests that the Commission is ready to set a cap forcing operators to put a limit on the cost of downloading data from a device while abroad. Previously retail data prices hadn't been capped although from 2010 a default limit of €50 has been in place on all travellers' bills to avoid excessive bill shock.

A retail pricing cap for data would follow the ones for voice and SMS previously imposed by the Commission and the new legislation is targeting further reductions in these too. Under the proposals, the cap on the cost of roaming voice calls in the EU would be lowered from 39 cents to 24 cents per minute from July 2014, according to Reuters. The text cap would also drop 1 cent to 10 cents.

The proposals are part of an ongoing consultation process on roaming prices, the latest round of which began in December last year with the publication of a consultation document by the Commission. Mobile operators have consistently opposed the use of retail price regulation and had been hoping for a gentler approach following the Commission's change in leadership.

In a response to that consultation document, the GSMA, acting on behalf of Europe's operators, produced a 34-page response detailing exactly why it believed a universal retail price cap on data would be a poor idea.

In that document the GSMA states that, "a flat per-megabyte price cap does not take into account the device type, content or usage and is inappropriate for the evolving data market. It would restrict the ability of operators to innovate and offer suitable tariffs based on customer usage patterns in each country."

It further points to an average fall in data roaming prices from €5.81 per megabyte in the second quarter of 2007 to €1.93 per megabyte by the same period in 2010, and a whole host of innovative services , such as T-Mobile's Euro Internet Boosters, Orange UK's Travel Data Daily and Vodafone Italy's Passport Mobile Internet, as reasons that a cap in unnecessary. A further example of this came last week as TeliaSonera launched new tariffs for its Nordic customers that reduce data roaming charges in the region by 90 per cent.

The GSMA's final claim that, despite overall growth in the mobile market, the roaming market has shrunk by 7 per cent per annum since 2006 as a direct result of the Commission's intervention, appears has fallen on deaf ears.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this GSMA consultation document
- see this TeliaSonera release

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