EU lawmakers push for cuts in wholesale mobile phone roaming fees

BRUSSELS, Nov 29 (Reuters) - EU lawmakers will push for sharp cuts in the fees telecoms firms may charge each other to provide mobile data roaming services in the bloc following a committee vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday.

The industry committee voted overwhelmingly to give its representative, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, a mandate to negotiate with the Council of EU member states on a series of wholesale price caps for handling voice, SMS and data traffic between different EU countries.

Part of vital negotiations to ensure companies can afford to continue offering roaming within the EU once they can no longer charge retail customers for the service from June, lawmakers are pressing for lower caps on data charges than EU member governments wanted.

States have agreed to cap wholesale data roaming fees at 10 euros per gigabyte from June, declining to half that in 2021. The European Commission had proposed a cap of 8.5 euros per gigabyte while the parliament said in a statement its industry committee wants an initial cap of 4 euros, declining to just 1 euro.

It also proposed a 3-cent cap on voice calls, instead of a proposed 4 cents but agreed with the Commission on a 1-cent cap on text messages. Kumpula-Natri said the caps would bring fees closer to the real costs of providing roaming services.

The European Consumer Organisation welcomed what it called “ambitious” proposals from lawmakers: “Anything else would scupper the promised end of roaming fees in 2017,” its head, Monique Goyens, said in a statement.

“Member state governments must follow suit. Unfortunately, for the moment, they seem to be more preoccupied with defending their telecom giants’ short-term interests rather than consumers.”

Ending roaming charges for consumers travelling within Europe has been a goal for the European Commission for years as part of its efforts to promote a single EU market. A series of reductions in permitted roaming charges has eroded what was once a highly profitable business for firms, whose customers complained that the roaming fees were not justified.

Beset by eurosceptic criticism, the Commission has trumpeted the end of retail roaming charges as a popular demonstration of the value of EU cooperation. However, the industry has warned of a disruption to services without a deal on wholesale fees.

Companies in national markets where domestic mobile services are relatively cheap have said that wholesale roaming charges must fall if they are to avoid having to raise prices in their home markets, effectively making poorer customers subsidise frequent travellers. (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Greg Mahlich)