EC clamps down on excessive roaming charges

The European Commission will take “concrete action” against German and U.K. mobile telecommunications operators for what it believes are excessive roaming charges, a spokesman said on Friday.

“The situation is most serious in Germany and the U.K., but that does not rule out action against operators in other countries too,” said Michael Tscherny, spokesman on competition issues at the Commission, the European Union’s executive body.

The concrete action is likely to mean the formal opening of lawsuits against the four German operators and the six companies competing in the U.K., Tscherny said. “We will take action after the August recess,” he added.

Mobile operators charge subscribers roaming fees when they use their phone outside the geographical area covered by their service provider.

A year ago the Commission conducted dawn raids on German and U.K. operators including British Telecommunications PLC, Vodafone Group PLC and Deutsche Telekom AG. Tscherny said that the competition authority would not have to carry out surprise visits to other operators in order to open other such cases.

EU antitrust lawsuits begin when the Commission sends a so-called statement of objection to the companies involved, outlining accusations. Cases then usually take between a year and two years to conclude.

The Commission’s tough line on roaming charges has come under some criticism from the industry. “Roaming charges are one of the few revenue sources these companies can rely on to finance the enormous infrastructure expenses they are going through in order to prepare for third generation mobile telephony,” said one lawyer close to the telecommunications industry who requested anonymity.

“The situation is bad enough for mobile operators without added pressure from the Commission. I hope it will be pragmatic when it decides what to do in these cases,” the lawyer said.