Vodafone hits out at EU plan to regulate roaming

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Vodafone condemned European Union proposals to regulate international mobile phone roaming rates yesterday and said the price caps set roaming charges higher than some of its existing packages.

Vodafone's roaming service "Passport" has 7.2 million members after launching little more than a year ago. Those customers will be charged, for example, only 75p to make a 10-minute call while abroad, dependent on their mobile phone package. Under the EU proposals unveiled yesterday, users will be charged about €0.49 (34p) a minute, so the same call would prove much more costly.

Yet under the revised EU roaming proposals, Vodafone's Passport is deemed illegal. Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for media and information, plans to cap roaming charges at the wholesale and retail levels. However, mobile phone users making calls while abroad may have to wait until early 2008 to benefit from the regulatory action.

A Vodafone spokesman said: "This politically inspired move is ill-thought out and arbitrary. We believe customers have been forgotten in internal EU politics. The EU is meant to protect us from 'arbitrary and unjustified regulation'."

Mobile phone companies have frantically reduced roaming charges significantly over the past few months to avert onerous EU regulation. Vodafone's Passport was launched before the EU started investigating roaming.

The GSM Association said price cuts would bring down the average cost of a roaming call in the EU by 40 per cent. It agreed that the proposals "would do significant damage to the European roaming market and are not in the interests of consumers".