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European Commissioner calls for eliminating roaming fees

Kevin J. O'Brien (via NYT/ SMH) | May 31, 2013
A top European Union commissioner urged lawmakers on Thursday to abolish cellphone roaming charges as part of an effort to reinvigorate the telecommunications market.

In her speech Thursday, Ms. Kroes did not detail how she planned to guarantee network neutrality or abolish roaming fees, which industry analysts say generate about 5 percent of an operator's revenue. But her package to enhance a single European market will probably include operator-supported proposals to ease cross-border mergers and to let carriers more quickly recoup their investments in new networks.

Jens Rohde, a Danish lawmaker who is a vice chairman of the committee, said the proposed ban on roaming fees was intended to pressure operators to support her package.

"She is simply trying to raise pressure on operators to come to the bargaining table," said Mr. Rohde, who supports her push to end the charges. "There is a cartel-like situation when it comes to roaming charges in Europe, and this must stop."

Both Mr. Harbour and Mr. Rohde said a roaming ban had more political support than a new attempt to enforce network neutrality, a more complex subject where the technical realities of managing overloaded telecom networks can conflict with free-speech guarantees.

A European consumer group welcomed plans to abolish roaming fees but warned lawmakers against passing a ban that could be easily circumvented by operators, which could simply raise domestic fees across Europe to compensate for the loss of roaming revenue.

"The European Union wants to make roaming history, as bill shocks have bitten hard and it contradicts a single-market ethos," the European Consumers' Organization said in Brussels. "But the future shouldn't be a lava lamp effect of costs rising elsewhere and national calls or texts becoming more expensive."

Should Ms. Kroes persuade the European Parliament to support her plans, she must get them through the Council of Ministers, where former telecom monopolies, as large employers, have more influence with national governments.

"That is the big question, whether any of this can get through the council," Mr. Rohde, the Danish lawmaker, said. But if Parliament overwhelmingly supports a series of consumer-friendly changes, including the end to roaming fees and a legal guarantee on net neutrality, national officials will have a hard time opposing it, he said.

"It would be very difficult, I imagine, for national telecom ministers to explain to their constituents why they don't want to abolish roaming fees or protect network neutrality," Mr. Rohde said.



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