Update 20 Feb 2006: The European Commission is now inviting interested parties to provide their comments by 17 March 2006 on the proposals sketched out by Ms. Reding relating to regulation of international roaming charges.

The questions put to interested parties are as follows:

What form should a regulation of international roaming charges take i.e. should it be targeted at wholesale level charges or retail level or both?

What regulatory and pricing mechanism (or control) would achieve the desired objectives of such a regulation in the most effective and simple manner?

What is your view on the impacts - positive and negative - that regulation of international roaming charges could have:

-in general economic and social terms? on industry players? on consumers?

In a speech made to the European Regulators Group (ERG) in Paris in the evening of 8 Feb 2006, the EC Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, announced that she had  'asked the European Commission services'...

'to start working on an EU regulation on international roaming charges – an EU Regulation that the European Commission could propose to the European Parliament and the Council well before the summer break.'

T-REGS Note:

This is clearly a very major development, in terms of its substance as well as regarding the choice of regulatory instrument. Indeed, in roughly 20 years of the European Commission's active involvement in telecommunications legislation/regulation in the European Union, there has been only one previous instance in which the instrument of a Regulation (which is directly binding on companies in all Member States, as opposed to Directives which must first be transposed into national law) has been used. The previous instance was Regulation 2887/2000 which mandated local loop unbundling throughout the EU as of 1/1/2001.

Ms Reding's speech also contained important messages and suggestions concerning the European Commission's approach to the 2006 Reviews (of the Recommendation on Relevant Markets Susceptible to Ex-Ante Regulation, and especially the upcoming review of EU directives on electronic communications).

The most notable message (which may stand somewhat in contrast to the contents of the recent European Commission Communication on Market Reviews - see a previous T-REGS news item), concerns the veto powers of the European Commission over decisions of National Regulatory Authorities, on which Ms Reding stated the following:

'When we come to review the regulatory framework in 2006, we may agree that there is no need for increasing the Commission powers substantially, but there is room for improvement in getting regulators to think beyond their national boundaries. As we go forward, I would ask for your support on using the ERG, not just as a source of regulatory expertise for its members, but also for the purpose of delivering more of a genuine internal market than has been the case to date, for example by seeking more consistency in the imposition of remedies'.

Further notable statements made by Ms Reding in this speech included:

'The communications industries under our regulatory microscopes are the bedrock of this revolution. They are a major source of technological innovation to say nothing of their macro-economic contribution to increased productivity. In the internet world, we see that the challenges to the market leader do not come from large, established companies with a legacy network. Today’s challengers are yesterday’s start-ups, which have then succeeded and become new established companies. This has been the case for Yahoo, Netscape, and more recently Google and Skype. I call on all of us to see this development, and the arrival of new innovative companies also from outside Europe not as a threat, but as a welcome wake-up call for Europe’s industry and policy-makers'.

The full text of Ms Reding's speech to the ERG members can be accessed by clicking here.