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EU plans to cap roaming phone charges face parliamentary hurdle

12 April 2007, 12:35 CET

(BRUSSELS) - An EU plan to cap the price operators can charge mobile phone users while abroad was expected to clear a key hurdle in the European Parliament on Thursday.

The assembly's industry committee was set to approve the European Commission's plans after leaders of the all the major parties on the panel except the Greens agreed to back the proposal, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The measure, if approved as expected, will be taken up the full parliament in a plenary sitting on May 10.

The European Commission hopes to see so-called roaming charges fall by as much as 70 percent, thanks to its plans to cap what operators charge customers at the retail level and what they charge each other at the wholesale level.

EU Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding, who has led the push for price regulation, said she saw an agreement emerging on the plan and hoped that limits would be in place by summer.

"A political agreement on lower roaming tariffs is now within reach," she said in a statement ahead of the vote.

"In this important phase of the legislative procedure, it is of crucial importance to ensure that all consumers in the EU will be able to benefit from lower roaming charges, and that no one is left behind," she added.

The Commission drew up the plans to regulate roaming rates after finding evidence of huge variations between operators with roaming calls costing some times up to six times those of local mobile calls.

Under the plans, the Commission proposes setting a ceiling of 44 euro cents a minute before tax for calls from abroad to a user's home country within the EU.

The price of calls within the country being visited would be capped at 30 cents and users could be charged no more than 15 cents for receiving calls.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, hopes that an agreement in the parliament in May would open the way for a deal among EU governments in June.

However, the EU lawmaker in charge of the parliament's industry committee, German conservative Angelika Niebler, said that she expected more time would be needed and that the new rules would not be in place until the autumn or even the end of the year.

The package has the industry, which argues that fierce competition has already driven down prices, up in arms and it has been lobbying hard to get the plans watered down.

"At a time when Europe is trying to stimulate investment and innovation, these inappropriate and inconsistent proposals are becoming increasingly removed from the economic realities of the mobile market," said Rob Conway, head of the GSMA trade group, ahead of the vote.

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