E.U. chides German operators for roaming charges

The European Commission has ordered two German mobile network operators to explain why they apparently overcharged mobile phone users visiting Germany, it announced last week. If the operators fail to convince the Commission that their charges were justified they could face fines of up to hundreds of millions of euros.

The Commission sent statements of objections to T-Mobile Deutschland, in Bonn, and Vodafone D2 GmbH, in Dusseldorf, complaining that the pair charged other mobile network operators too much to use their networks in Germany, the Commission said.

The so-called roaming charges hurt consumers because the operators were passing the cost of the charges directly on to their customers, said a spokesman for the Commission, which serves as the antitrust regulator for the European Union (E.U.).

The German operators’ practices may have been “contrary to European Union Treaty rules” and constituted an abuse of a monopoly position, the spokesman said. Under E.U. competition law, if the companies cannot justify their charges the Commission can fine them up to 10 per cent of their turnover for the period in question.

The investigation concluded last year and began in 1999 in T-Mobile’s case and 2000 in Vodafone’s case. The Commission found that the companies had abused their dominant position in the German market for providing international wholesale roaming services.

Vodafone D2 had turnover of