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Mobile groups lose EU roaming charge case

08 июня 2010

Leading mobile phone operators have lost their bid to overturn a European Union cap on the roaming fees they can charge customers when they travel overseas.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said the EU had the right to impose price caps on roaming charges in the interest of promoting the bloc’s internal market.

France Telecom’s Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica’s O2 and Vodafone had challenged the measures before UK courts, who passed on key parts of the case to the ECJ.

Their challenge aimed to overturn a price-capping regime that came into force in 2007, in spite of extensive lobbying from telecoms groups.

A favourable decision from the court might have reopened the lucrative roaming market, which was worth €8.7bn at the time the regulation came into force, according to Brussels.

Roaming fees have fallen sharply since the law came into effect, originally reducing the maximum rates that operators could charge to €0.49 a minute to make outgoing calls and €0.24 to receive them. They have since been lowered further and the regime has been extended from voice calls to data downloads and text messages.

The European Commission, which acted as the driving force behind the regulation, welcomed the ruling. Neelie Kroes, the EU telecoms commissioner last month said she wanted to see roaming fees disappear entirely by 2015, but has not yet announced concrete steps to further regulate the area.

The court ruled that, contrary to the operators’ argument, the EU could legitimately impose caps using legal provisions that were designed to protect the functioning of its single market.

In a statement, the court said “the level of retail charges for international roaming services at the time of the adoption of the regulation was high, and the relationship between costs and charges was not such as would prevail in fully competitive markets”.

Operators also complained that the EU had acted in a heavy-handed fashion by regulating roaming charges at retail level rather than imposing wholesale price caps. But the court said such measures were appropriate in the context.

It also rebutted operators’ claims that regulating roaming fees was a measure for national governments, not the EU.

Deutsche Telekom said it regretted the decision of the ECJ, adding that its primary concern in bringing the case was the legal basis on which the regulation had been taken rather than its content.

Vodafone said its roaming prices were already below those set by regulation. “Today’s decision will not affect what our customers pay today. We will be reading in detail the reasons for the ECJ’s ruling.”

France Telecom said: “We are disappointed with the decision expressed today by the European Court of Justice and feel that this does not reflect the best interests of the European market. We will of course continue to comply with European regulations in force.”

A spokesman for Telefónica said: “We accept the ECJ ruling. It is important to note that the mobile operators were not challenging the substance of the regulation per se, but the basis on which the regulation was justified, and so in turn ensure the EU takes proper consideration for future regulation.”

All the companies’ share prices slipped after the news: Vodafone fell 2.5 per cent to €134.05, Deutsche Telekom was off 1.6 per cent to €9.07, while France Telecom dropped 1.8 per cent to €14.99. Telefónica fell 2 per cent to €14.96 in early trading.


Источник: Financial Times

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