BRUSSELS Hefty roaming fees charged by telecoms operators are "an outdated concept" and the European Union is prepared to take steps to reduce the costs, the bloc's telecoms chief said on Thursday.
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who oversees telecoms and the Internet across the 27-country EU, blamed the problem on a lack of competition.
Her predecessor, Viviane Reding, shocked the telecoms industry in 2008 by capping the amount mobile phone companies could charge for calls, sending text messages and downloading data while abroad. The European Parliament backed the proposals last year.
"The (European) Commission's review of the Roaming Regulation must look at the source of the problem and potential solutions in their full context," Kroes said in the text of a speech prepared for delivery at a European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) conference.
"The relevant context is the lack of a really competitive single market for all aspects of telecoms services in Europe."
In her previous job as EU competition commissioner, Kroes imposed fines worth billions of euros on companies that broke EU antitrust rules.
In her speech, she said a genuine EU single market should be one where price differences between voice, text messages and data were based only on the actual cost of providing these services.
"I will assess the structural, economic and legal barriers to such a true single market and I am not afraid to propose the necessary measures to overcome these," Kroes said.
"But some real out-of-the-box thinking is needed for that. In this scenario the exorbitant cost of 'roaming' abroad within the EU is an outdated concept," she said.
Kroes said she would not impose price ceilings just for the sake of it but would unveil new proposals if necessary.
"We will not be proposing another barrier, and nor will we propose endless tweaking of the current price capping arrangement without adding anything new. I want the gap between roaming and domestic prices to approach zero."
On the difficult issue of net neutrality -- level access to the Internet -- Kroes said regulators would probably not intervene if there was more competition in the market.
"Strong competition in broadband markets may allow a more relaxed regulatory approach to net neutrality issues," she said.
British regulator Ofcom said in June it could force internet service providers such as BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk to reveal whether they restrict access to some websites at peak times while favoring others.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)