Roaming price cap shelved as negotiations stall

A European Parliament vote on mobile phone roaming charges has been postponed because the three EU governing bodies cannot agree on a compromise deal. The plan would cap voice call charges for calls made within the EU.

A vote scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed for two weeks, and an almost certain period of grace before they come into effect means that this summer's holidaymakers are unlikely to enjoy the benefits of the lower prices.

Two EU Parliament committees have backed roaming caps and European Commissioner Vivianne Reding has also come up with a proposal after her voluntary price capping schemes failed to reduce prices by enough of a margin.

The Industry, Research and Energy Committee proposed caps of 40% a minute for outgoing calls and 15% for incoming, while the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee had previously backed a cap of 50% and 25%. Some roaming calls to EU member states can cost up to €12 a minute.

Another plan is to link the cap to the cost of connecting calls, with a cap set at 30% above the cost of connecting phone subscribers.

Backers of the cap plan are said to be keen to have the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers behind a single plan before it goes to Parliament to speed the implementation of the cap once it is passed.

Two days of talks last week failed, leading negotiators to cancel this week's Parliament hearing. It will be heard at the next plenary session, which starts on 21st May. While a cap now seems almost certain, mobile operators seem to have won a concession of a three month delay from politicians, which would allow them to operate without caps during the lucrative summer period.

"Our major concession is that we are ready to give operators time before the capped euro tariff applies automatically," said Joseph Muscat, the Maltese MEP behind one of the plans. "That is the only concession we can give."

Negotiations are also focusing on whether or not subscribers should be placed on the capped tariffs automatically, or whether or not they should have to request the new price structure.

The UK has opposed an automatic cap and has recommended that it be set higher than the current proposals, at 60% and 30%. The Department of Trade and Industry has reportedly assessed the cost of the current measures. It has said that it will cost the industry €500 million a year and could add £25 to the cost of subsidised phone handsets.