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Mobile Phone Charges

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Truscott on 26 June (WA 131) (a) from what sources they sought legal advice that Article 95 of the Treaty of Rome enabled mobile phone roaming charges to be fixed throughout the European Union; (b) what tests were applied to ensure that the decision to fix roaming charges was compatible with the principles of subsidiarity; and (c) whether this decision is compatible with World Trade Organisation obligations under Article XVII of the General Agreement on Trade in Services. [HL4682]

I am pleased to confirm that the EC regulation on roaming came into effect on 30 June, triggering a process that will see the offering of roaming packages complying with the regulation by the start of August. The regulation, while introducing average wholesale price caps that must be met by operators when they procure roaming capacity from one another, does not fix prices as such; instead, it introduces a tariff that has to be offered to all roaming customers (the Euro tariff) with maximum rates for incoming and outgoing calls made. Throughout the discussions and negotiation pertaining to this regulation, the Government have sought legal advice on all matters to the extent thought necessary and appropriate.

As regards subsidiarity, the national authorities responsible for regulating the telecommunications markets have found themselves unable to effect a reduction in roaming charges. This has resulted from the cross-border nature of the telecoms market in general and, in particular, the necessarily international interconnections between networks, which enable the making of roaming calls. It was also necessary to ensure that a common, Community-wide approach was adopted, so that operators could operate in a single coherent regulatory framework.

In these circumstances, it was considered appropriate for the EU to intervene and to act in order to procure the desired benefits. The Government are therefore satisfied that the principle of subsidiarity has been adhered to.

Finally, the Government take the view that the EC regulation on mobile roaming is compatible with its WTO obligations, having sought clarification on this matter when it was raised during discussions in the European Council.