Europeans are paying a high price to send a text message or use mobile Internet services outside their own country, the EU's telecoms chief said Thursday in a shot across the bows of telecom companies just months after the EU capped call charges.
The roaming charges that tourists and traveling executives pay for making mobile phone calls outside their home countries have dropped by up to 60 percent since the European Commission capped fees last September.
But no such price limit exists for the 202 billion text messages research firm Gartner said were sent in western Europe last year, nor for business travelers who check e-mail on a BlackBerry from a foreign airport.
EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was concerned about the high level and wide range of prices for text messages and data roaming listed in a report from the European Regulators Group which collected data from 150 European operators from April to September last year.
"We will watch developments very closely and respond appropriately by the end of 2008," she said.
These words are similar to the early warnings she gave phone companies to reduce their call fees, saying their roaming charges for voice calls were unjustifiably high and discouraged people from using their phones when they crossed the border.
Citing telecom firms' refusal to budge, she eventually won EU government and European Parliament backing to introduce a Sept. 1 ban on charging more than 67 cents a minute for making calls, and 32 cents for receiving calls, outside travelers' home countries.
The EU price ceilings will drop further by 2009.
Before the EU price cap, a four-minute call from France across the border to Germany would cost a traveler $5.92 even though a similar call made within France over a much longer distance could cost just a few cents.
Telecom businesses complained loudly about the new limits that they claimed could hit their margins and force them to hike fees elsewhere. International roaming was a lucrative cash cow that brought in between 10 percent and 18 percent of their revenue, according to research firm Evalueserve.