MOBILE TELEPHONY : CONSUMER PROTECTION ISAT THE HEART OF DEBATE ON ROAMING.

Supposedly grounded in a principle of simplicity,' the debate on the proposed regulation aimed at lowering the cost of calls made to or from another country ( roaming') continues to inspire Europe's policy-makers. The European Commission, the German Presidency of the EU and the European Parliament's rapporteur, Paul Rubig (EPP-ED, Austria), all have proposals for striking a balance between consumers' interests and competition on the mobile phone market. A consensus seems to be taking shape on regulating wholesale and retail prices, noted Fabio Colasanti, Director-General of DG Information Society, at an EP hearing on 23 January.

Germany wishes to create a "standard price" with an upper limit that would be compulsory for all operators and would give them enough margin to make a profit and develop innovation.

The EP rapporteur approves of that idea, explaining that the regulation of wholesale prices must be based on call completion rates corresponding to the average for all 27 member states. After multiplying it by an x factor (to leave a margin for operators), a European single price ceiling' would result. The Commission is said to be willing to accept the single price idea. The x factor would range between 2.3 and 2.6. Rubig suggests that this coefficient should be revised by national regulators at planned intervals if a majority ofcountries so decides.

CONSUMER PRICES

The regulation's number one priority is to protect consumers by improving price transparency. The aim is to prevent unreasonable retail prices, pointed out Roberto Viola, Chair of the European Regulators Group (ERG), which brings together the 27 national authorities. "An average price" must be determined "to benefit all consumers," and not just frequent travellers like businessmen, Viola said. He added, however, that it is harder to apply a price ceiling for retail prices than for wholesale and that the consequences can be less predictable.

For the moment, the rapporteur maintains that the regulation of retail prices must leave a wide enough margin to enable...

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