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Government accused over roaming charges

Times says Labour sided with mobile companies


Making mobile calls abroad Costs for making calls abroad can be high

The government joined forces with mobile-phone companies to keep the price of international mobile phone calls high, according to The Times.

It’s made the claims after obtaining government documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The paper says the released emails and minutes of contacts between officials and phone giants show how Britain battled to prevent the EU from introducing swingeing cuts in ‘roaming’ charges.

The EU eventually imposed maximum rates per minute of 34p for making international calls and 17p for receiving a call in a foreign country.

But MEPs had been pressing for 27p and 10p respectively.

Emails and minutes

The Times says that the documents show that Britain’s lead negotiator in Europe regularly e-mailed major mobile companies.

At an early stage, he told BT: ‘Fight goes on.’ He also warned Vodafone about an initiative by a senior European official, adding: ‘I assume we want to avoid at all costs!’

The Times added that minutes of a meeting last November between the phone company Orange and Margaret Hodge, when she was the Industry Minister, state: ‘MH thought that the industry could have moved faster and earlier but said that she was two thirds on their side.’

Mobile roaming

The paper says that the gratitude of phone chiefs is also evident from a round of get-togethers with Margaret Hodge.

It says that the released minutes state that on November 16, 2006, T-Mobile ‘thanked MH for the government’s help and support on European regulations, particularly mobile roaming’.

Minutes from Mrs Hodge’s meeting with Orange on November 29 state: ‘Orange is pleased with the work DTI is doing on roaming but adamant that regulation in this area was not necessary.’

Which? contacted the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (formerly the Department of Trade and Industry) for its response.

‘Severe misgivings’

Competitiveness Minister Stephen Timms said: ‘The aim of the UK government was to strike a balance, introducing changes that would benefit mobile phone users without stifling competition and innovation in the mobile phone industry.

‘Our view was that roaming prices were indeed higher than could be justified, and the question was how – not whether – to address the problem.  But we had severe misgivings about the nature of the solution proposed by the Commission, which could have reduced existing beneficial terms for UK users.

‘We worked closely with business and our European partners to find a good solution.  And we led the way to a solution which was good for consumers and which supported a viable and competitive market.’

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