New mobile roaming regulation has been approved by the EC.
Telecoms ministers from the 25 countries in the European Union today supported a plan to regulate roaming charges racked up when people make calls abroad.
The Commission has accused mobile phone operators of taking huge profit margins of between 300 percent and 500 percent on roaming calls for over six years. Roaming charges are hidden on most mobile subscribers' bills, making it impossible for them to know how much they are paying.
Making the prices more transparent would be a start, but Finland's telecoms minister Susannah Huovinen, who chaired Monday's ministerial meeting, said there was "broad agreement on the need for regulatory intervention".
"The Commission's proposal is a step in the right direction," she said, adding, "regulation would benefit all consumers."
Europe's telecoms industry has lobbied hard to avert roaming charge regulation. It claimed that strict rules would act as a straitjacket, stifling innovation and dampening competition to the detriment of consumers.
ETNO, the trade association representing the former telecoms monopolies, gave a more muted reaction today. In a statement, it urged politicians to bear in mind the industry's efforts to reduce roaming charges and to make subscribers' bills easier to figure out. "ETNO urges EU telecom ministers to avoid reducing operators' ability to invest and provide consumer choice in a sector which is one of the main drivers of Europe's growth and competitiveness," it said.
Viviane Reding, the European commissioner responsible for proposing a roaming charges regulation, welcomed the ministers' support, and noted how their views have changed. "There has been a seismic shift of opinion among the ministers. Six months ago there were a lot of questions about introducing a new regulation, but now there is a lot of enthusiasm," she said.
"Everyone appreciates that there has to be a regulation. Now what is required is fine tuning. Germany has promised to devote as much effort into the issue as Finland," she said. Germany takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU from Finland at the beginning of January.
Once the European Parliament and the national governments of the EU's 25 member states agree to the shape of the proposed law it will become effective immediately, forcing phone operators to cut the wholesale prices they charge each other for handling the calls of subscribers outside the countries they are registered in.
The European Parliament has yet to debate the topic.