Mobile operator Orange has sought to deflect attention from EC plans to regulate roaming fees, with the introduction of new tariffs for the calls its customers make and receive while travelling abroad.
Orange will charge its French customers as little as €0.25 ($0.34) per minute for calls they make or receive in other countries of the European Union, as long as they pay in advance for a block of at least 10 incoming minutes and 10 outgoing minutes, and consume all the prepaid minutes within 31 days.
The price rises to €0.33 per minute for blocks of 40 or more minutes.
The European Commission and the European Parliament are working on legislation that will set limits on the prices operators can charge for calls made or received while roaming.
However, a meeting in Brussels to discuss the legislation Tuesday ended with no agreement reached.
The various bodies hold different views of what the limits should be: a meeting of government ministers last year suggested a ceiling of €0.50 per minute for calls made while travelling, and €0.30 for calls received, while the Commission wanted much tighter limits, €0.44 and €0.15.
A committee of the European Parliament went further, suggesting €0.40 and €0.15. Until this week, all were in favour of making the tariffs compulsory for operators, but on Tuesday the German government proposed far higher price ceilings than previously discussed (€0.60 and €0.30), and suggested that customers should have to "opt in" to get even these prices.
That's the direction that Orange is moving. Its list prices for calls made and received while abroad will remain unchanged at €1.00 and €0.34 per minute for most subscribers. To get the lower prices Orange is advertising, consumers must sign up for a one-off deal, Pass Vacances, valid for a month or for a regular service, Europe Sans Frontières, costing €30 or €60 a month. Other offers are available to business customers, beginning at €35 a month.
While the prices might seem attractive, customers not using all the minutes they have paid for, or using additional minutes at regular prices, will end up paying far more on average.
Someone signing up for Pass Vacances (€5 for 10 incoming minutes and 10 outgoing minutes) who makes 15 minutes of calls while travelling, but receives no calls, will pay a total of €10 (€5 for the bundle, and €1 a minute for the additional calls), for an effective rate of €0.66 a minute, higher even than the ceilings Germany proposed Tuesday.
The company plans to introduce the bundles for customers in its other European markets, but the price will depend on conditions in each country, it said.