Predictably, MEPs are in favour of caps for retail prices (charged to customers) and wholesale prices (charged between operators) well below those proposed by the European Commission in its draft regulation on roaming. The opinion (first reading), adopted on 28 February by an overwhelming majority in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), also approves the mandate for negotiating with the Council.
The three-way talks are therefore expected to start quite soon, the challenge being to reach agreement by June to avoid a legal vacuum. The proposal being examined will replace the 2007 regulation amended in 2009, which expires on 30 June 2012.
Presented on 6 July 2011, the draft regulation introduces the first-ever structural solution for tackling the absence of competition on the roaming market. In other words, it will make it easier for alternative operators to enter the wholesale market. The Commission proposes to decouple domestic service and roaming so that consumers would be free to choose another operator for roaming, separate from their national operator. In parallel, the text continues to regulate price ceilings temporarily.
"Today's prices, particularly for downloading on cell phones, do not reflect real prices," said rapporteur Angelika Niebler (EPP, Germany).
MEPs decided to amend the Commission's proposal with respect to retail and wholesale prices for voice calls, SMS and data. The vote, hailed by the European Consumers' Organisation BEUC, whose Director-General, Monique Goyens, nevertheless finds that "we haven't crossed the finish line yet," is not likely to please many operators.
These operators consider that the structural solutions meant to establish real competition on the roaming market should not be matched with overly binding price caps, especially for retail prices.
That is why the Commission proposed a sufficiently flexible gap between wholesale and retail price caps (an economic margin), mainly to allow alternative operators to enter the roaming market. Concerning the decrease...