TEXT messages sent from abroad should be cheaper by next summer. On September 23, the European Commission approved a regulation, according to which the price of one text message should not be higher than €0.11, i.e. about Sk3.3. The current average price in the EU is €0.29 (Sk8.7), which is too much, according to the commission. In Slovakia, for instance, an Orange customer sending an outgoing roaming message while in another EU country pays under Sk11 to the mobile operator, the Hospodárske Noviny financial daily wrote.
The Slovak regulatory body, the Telecommunications Office, agrees with price limits for text messages. According to its spokesman, Roman Vavro, operators’ margins on them are too high. But the companies do not agree.
The commission’s provisions also bring new price limits for roaming calls and enhanced protection for users of data services. Voice services already have regulatory caps, but the commission has asked operators to reduce prices further by July 1, 2012.
Mobile operators have rejected intervention in their pricing policies.
“Telefónica O2 Slovakia believes that in Europe there is an effective competition of retail and wholesale services connected to roaming,” spokesman René Parák said. “This healthy competition leads to rapidly decreasing prices under the influence of market factors.”
Numbers one and two in the market – T-Mobile and Orange – share the same opinion. According to Orange’s spokesman Richard Fides, more regulation will cause “operators not to invest as much in the development of new services and technologies, which could cause European telecommunications to lag behind the rest of the world.” Moreover, the commission has also introduced obligatory billing by the second for roaming calls.
“Currently, consumers are charged 24 percent more for calls from mobile phones abroad since, with roaming calls, [customers are] billed by the minute and not by the second,” the European commissioner for consumer protection, Meglena Kuneva, explained.
The commission’s provision also brings new rules on data services which should provide customers with more protection. Operators have to notify clients, about the prices for roaming internet access when they enter the territory of another country, through a text message. Internet access should not be more expensive than €1 per megabyte, according to the EC. Slovak mobile companies have also objected to this cap.
“As regards prices for data roaming, unlike voice services, this is an emerging market, which is only now being developed, and regulation could cause development and innovation by operators to stop,” Fides says. “In this sphere it is thus too early to even consider regulation.”
T-Mobile bases its opposition on the argument that its services are already cheaper than regulated prices.
“The service Web Roaming 24 offers the client 20 megabytes of data abroad for Sk198.50, i.e. one megabyte for Sk9.9,” T-Mobile spokesman Andrej Gargulák said. “This is one of the reasons why we think that any further interventions from the EC are needless, and just unnaturally obstruct market competition.”
The Telecommunications Office’s Roman Vavro supports the regulation of data services. He believes their prices are too high at the moment, which is discouraging clients from using them. Another EC measure meant to help consumers is the possibility of setting an upper limit on bills for data services. The commission says this is intended to protect customers from a nasty surprise after returning from a holiday or business trip.