EU to Regulate SMS Roaming Charges

The European Commission will propose legislation to slash the cost of sending and receiving SMS messages on mobile phones while roaming, Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding is set to announce Tuesday.

However, no such intervention is planned for other types of data transfers via mobile, such as Internet services and e-mail messages, according to a person close to Reding's office.

No specific SMS (Short Message Service) roaming price caps will be mentioned Tuesday, the person said.

"The commissioner will mention figures that were suggested during the consultation and by the European Regulators' Group, but no figure has been decided on yet," the person said, asking not to be named.

A report from the European Regulators Group in January showed that on average across the European Union, users had to pay €0.29 (US$0.50) for an SMS sent in the third quarter of 2007. That fell to €0.28 last month, but Reding said this decline was insufficient.

The decision to curb SMS roaming costs comes a year after the introduction of voice roaming price caps, which the Commission claims helped bring down prices by 60 percent across the E.U.

The existing roaming law requires operators to offer customers a "Eurotariff" for voice calls when roaming in other E.U. member states and introduced ceilings of €0.49 per minute for making calls and €0.24 per minute for receiving calls. These will decrease to €0.46 and €0.22, respectively, at the end of next month and to €0.43 and €0.19 on Aug. 30, 2009.

Mobile phone operators argue that price capping is not the answer. According to the GSM Association, since the third quarter last year, operators including Mobilkom Austria, Orange (in France, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the U.K.), Telefonica (in Spain, Ireland, Czech Republic, the U.K. and Germany), T-Mobile (in Austria, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands) and Vodafone (in Italy, Spain, and the U.K.) have lowered their SMS roaming charges either through a reduction of their standard SMS rates or the launch of specialized packages aimed at roamers.

The GSM Association declined to comment ahead of Reding's statement Tuesday.

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