Consumer affairs: The European Commission’s proposal to cut down on cross-border mobile phone fees faces stiff opposition from the telecommunications industry.
The European Commission’s proposal to eliminate roaming costs across the union is proving difficult. But that has not deterred it from its goal.
The proposal, if successful, aims to offer incentives for mobile operators to abandon roaming charges by July 2016 by allowing cross-border partnerships. “I promise I will deliver” is the underlying message from the commission’s vice president, Neelie Kroes.
Fighting talk is expected in a political arena. However, the commissioner’s opponents are not politicians, but lobbyists from the telecom industry. Vodafone has campaigned intensely against the motion as it claims such implementation would cost the industry €7 billion by 2020. It also says the proposal would be anti-competitive and therefore illegal under current EU legislation.
Brussels has brushed Vodafone’s criticism off as “naked self-interest”, but the telecom giant is not alone. Orange also warns that the motion could harm creativity within “a trusted market”.
“We really have some questions,” says François Comet, deputy chief of Orange France. “We worry that if this proposal is used as a ‘one-size fits all’ for reasonable use in 28 different countries, then the industry’s innovation will suffer.”
Kroes disagrees. The EU digital commissioner insists that the telecom sector should be treated like all other economic activity within a single European market.
“Telecom companies should stop looking backwards,” Kroes tells Delano. “They should make their business models future orientated and think about satisfying their clients. Because [if] their clients are not satisfied, they are their enemies.”
High roaming charges may not be popular, but Kroes’ rhetoric might backfire as consumers will feel cheated by her broken promises, according to Vincent Chauvet, the director of the anti-roaming “One Single Tariff” European Citizens’ Initiative, an official petition to the commission. “Neelie Kroes first said roaming would be over in 2014,” Chauvet says. “But after a summer of telecom lobbying,
we have a proposal that is too complex and does not go far enough.”
He argues that if the current deal is adopted, consumers will end up getting lost in a market strategy of carrots and sticks designed for operators.
But Kroes is adamant that she is up to the challenge. “I am in fighting spirit,” she says. “There is still some time to go and I promise I will deliver. But I’m aware that in a democracy I have to deal with several parties. But I will fight.”
The commission vice president is determined to see off roaming charges before her term ends next year. And with the proposal to be debated in the European Parliament before the end of year, there is a good chance Kroes will be victorious.
However, EU member states still have to approve legislation. And with intense lobbying expected to continue there is a risk that, if the commissioner leaves before the proposal is officially brought to the European Parliament, her plan will be scrapped altogether.