EU gives telcos last warning to cut texting prices

LUXEMBOURG, June 12 Thu Jun 12, 2008 2:11pm BST



LUXEMBOURG, June 12 (Reuters) - The EU's telecoms chief gave a final warning on Thursday that she will cap the cost of texting and downloading data abroad unless mobile operators slash prices -- a step France said it would back.

European Union Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding told the bloc's telecoms ministers meeting in Luxembourg that operators had roughly two weeks to cut texting and data roaming tariffs.

At the start of next month, the European Commission will post the latest prices of roamed texts and data downloading on a public website.

"On the basis of those prices I will then decide if it's necessary or not to have a regulation proposed," Reding said.

The EU has already capped roamed voice calls.

"If the prices don't come down I will certainly submit to parliament and council (EU states) a regulation in that context," Reding said. France, which takes over the EU presidency in July, said it backed intervention of some sort for text messages.

"We are in favour of the idea of a framework measure," French junior minister Luc Chatel told reporters.

The issue of data roaming was more complicated, he added. Belgian minister Vincent van Quickenborne favoured a regulation for texts.

Roberto Viola, secretary general of Italy's telecoms regulator, said he backed Reding's push to cut fees for roamed texts and data.

"We agree with the invitation, repeated today by Commissioner Reding, that industry will act to reduce prices otherwise the Commission has the legal instrument to impose it. In Italy we look with great concerns at the high prices for SMS and data roaming," Viola told reporters.

The European Regulators Group, made up of the EU's 27 national telecoms watchdogs, has said intervention is needed to cap roamed SMS prices but that data roaming, still in its infancy, requires more careful study.

The GSM Association, which represents operators such as Vodafone (VOD.L) and Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), said the mobile data market grew by 40 percent to 7 billion euros ($10.8 billion) in 2007.

Tariffs for data roaming were already tumbling, it said.

In the year to April 2008, the number of 3G users in the EU doubled to 112 million as tariffs fell steadily, the association said.

"In some European markets, mobile broadband services are now priced lower than comparable fixed-line broadband service," the association said.

Mobile operators say data roaming is too young for price cap intervention and that competition is increasing. (Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Dale Hudson)