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Appeared on: Wednesday, April 25, 2007
EU Fails to Agree On Cell Phone Roaming Rules

EU officials failed on Tuesday to resolve important details of a plan to cut the cost of making and receiving cell phone calls abroad, a lawmaker said.

Representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission and European Union countries tried to agree the levels of price caps and whether consumers should be automatically switched to the regulated rates.

"I think the two main problems are the limits of the caps and the 'opt in, opt out' question," said Paul Ruebig, one of two lawmakers steering the regulation through the assembly.

A second round of meetings are expected to start on May 2.

The executive European Commission has promised Europeans the new rates by this summer, but the three EU bodies, heavily lobbied by industry and consumer groups, are split over the details and time is running short.

The European Parliament wants what it calls a more consumer-friendly version of the rules -- with caps that would automatically apply to all at 40 euro cents ($0.54) a minute for making phone calls abroad and 15 euro cents for receiving them.

The European Commission supports this approach.

Member states have taken a softer approach, recommending caps of 60 and 30 euro cents respectively which consumers would have to seek out themselves, a detail critics say would take the bite out of the rules as users may not be aware of the new rate.

Parliament and member states will have to engage in intense wrangling if they are to hammer out a compromise in time to have the regulation in place by the summer.

Parliamentarians are due to vote on the regulation in two weeks time, but if the version of the text does not reflect a possible compromise with member states, the rules will have to go to a second parliamentary vote.

Cell phone companies have opposed the planned rules, saying caps would crush investment in infrastructure and that prices are coming down in any case.


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