Roaming row intensifies

As summer approaches, the row between the European Commission and Europe's major mobile operators is heating up nicely. The EC has been infuriated by the level of intra-European roaming charges for mobile users and has threatened to take action, in the form of a new law, unless these charges are reduced to levels near those levied when users roam across networks in their own country.
Europe's leading cellular operators, led by Telefica and Vodafone, have continued to argue that the market is the best mechanism for determining these charges. Yet, while warning against any regulatory interference on the issue, they have also announced plans to reduce rates quite drastically.
Spain's Telefica, which is now also the owner of O2, is offering to abolish roaming charges for high-volume users, primarily business customers, while offering discounts to general users. Vodafone has announced cuts averaging 40% at the wholesale and retail levels, to be phased in between this autumn and April 2007.
All the indications emanating from Brussels are that these gestures do not go far enough or fast enough. One concern is that the new European rates may be close to the 'nominal' rates for national roaming, but that few users actually pay these prices at home due to bundled minutes and so on.
If the EC decides to press ahead with legislation, its proposal could be published as early as this month, with a view to the new rules being in place by the middle of 2007. This will prey on the minds of mobile operators even as they prepare to enjoy the most profitable part of the year for roaming revenues as millions head off on their holidays. This time around, however, it won't only be their customers who are sweating. TE