Brussels, 10 December 2004
Mobile telephone network operators across the EU have been sent today a questionnaire as part of an investigation into wholesale prices for “international roaming”, which result in high charges for people who use their mobile phones in other Member States. This initiative, supported by the Commission, was announced today by the European Regulators Group (ERG), which brings together national regulatory authorities responsible for electronic communication markets.
“I am fully aware, both as a policymaker and as a consumer, of the impact that high roaming charges have on EU citizens and on the competitiveness of our industry. Whether we travel on business or for leisure, many of us have had an unpleasant surprise when the next bill arrived” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “I hope that today’s initiative of the European Regulators Group will help us to identify remaining competition problems in the 25 Member States and to resolve these as soon as possible.”
“International roaming” is the ability of mobile phone subscribers to use their phones whilst travelling abroad. Thus, users can make and receive calls using the same number as they do at home. For this, a mobile network operator needs to conclude international roaming agreements with operators in other countries.
The expense and complexity of international roaming charges have long been an issue of concern for the Commission. When the Commission adopted the Recommendation on “relevant markets” as part of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications, the wholesale international roaming market was identified as one where ex ante regulation may be warranted. This places an obligation on national regulatory authorities to examine this market. As consumers of this wholesale service are located outside the home market of a national regulatory authority, this can only be done efficiently if national regulatory authorities, through the ERG, act in concert to protect effective competition.
The harmonised ERG questionnaire issued today will provide information that could result in regulation being imposed. The questionnaire aims to establish how mobile network operators behave both as purchasers and providers of wholesale international roaming services. Replies to the questionnaire will help national regulatory authorities to define the “relevant market” within their own Member State, and hence whether any operators have “significant market power”. Where such significant market power is identified, remedies should be imposed. These could include direct controls on wholesale international roaming rates, which should, in turn, lower prices for consumers.
Today’s ERG initiative is complementary to ongoing anti-trust investigations during which the Commission had sent statements of objections to two UK mobile network operators in relation to an abuse of dominance in wholesale roaming rates (see IP/04/994). Commissioner Reding and her services will closely follow the results of these investigations and of today’s ERG initiative and discuss them with the ERG in early spring 2005.
Regulatory framework for electronic communications: