May 8, 2007 / 3:32 PM / 13 years ago

EU assembly group moves towards lax roaming rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament’s biggest political faction is moving closer to backing looser rules on mobile telephone “roaming” price caps that would not be automatically set for all consumers, an EU source said.

The centre-right European People’s Party is scrabbling for enough support among lawmakers that would enable it to pass the proposal backed by EU countries and viewed more favourably by the industry, leapfrogging opposition from the socialist bloc.

“The EPP are counting the votes to see whether they have a majority if they agree to a concession on ‘opt-out’, something the left is not agreeing to,” the source said, referring to the parliament’s stance that consumers should automatically be switched to the regulated rate.

After months of wrangling between the parliament, member countries and the executive European Commission — all of which must agree on the details of the planned regulation — how the roaming caps should be applied remains a stumbling block.

Member countries and the industry want consumers to “opt-in” to the new rates. The socialists, parliament’s second-largest bloc, say that would water down the rules as users may be unaware of the caps or have difficulty switching.

Instead, they and the Commission want consumers to be automatically switched to the rate whenever they make calls abroad, which would cut roaming bills by up to 70 percent, according to the EU executive.

Parliament votes on the final version of the rules later this month. Politicians and officials are in frantic talks behind closed doors to ensure the final text will be acceptable to member countries, which have to give it the nod.

If that does not happen, the rules will go through a second vote in parliament — effectively delaying the regulation for months or a year.

A proviso that consumers actively choose the regulated rate would be a small victory for the industry, which has fiercely opposed price regulation and lobbied EU institutions heavily.

Telecom operators say price control would hamper investment in infrastructure and that in any case prices are coming down, showing that the industry is competitive.

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