"The limited progress towards a true single market is disappointing," Neelie Kroes, the commissioner in charge of the EU's flagship 'Digital Agenda' portfolio, said in a statement yesterday (25 May).
Retail mobile prices in some member states differ by up to 20 cents per minute (while calls in Latvia cost four cents, they are 24 cents in Malta), according to statistics from the EU's annual Single European Electronic Communications Market report.
"If a market doesn't work properly, the chances are you overpay," Kroes told Dutch daily newspaper Het Financiele Dagblad.
The EU recently gained more power to oversee the sector's competitiveness after it approved its long-awaited telecoms package in November last year (EurActiv 25/11/09).
The new rules establish a new pan-European body of regulators called BEREC (see 'Background'), and give the EU more say on fixed or mobile call rates and on market entrants' access to networks.
"Member states need to do more to ensure telecoms rules are properly implemented and the necessary investments in innovative services are made for the benefit of all 500 million European consumers," the commissioner added.
The EU's report complained that national telecoms firms were too slow to implement the EU's rules, with regulators in some cases delaying their enforcement by years.
Kroes is putting the sector under more pressure before she unleashes new proposals to regulate the bloc's network infrastructure.
Previous proposals to foster investment in high-speed Internet infrastructure – or Next Generation Access (NGA) - had failed due to complaints by large legacy networks about access prices for new operators in the market (EurActiv 03/03/10).
EU telecoms sector representatives said yesterday's EU warning confirmed a downward trend and a lack of investment in telecoms, which has been aggravated by the current economic downturn.
In 2009, total telecoms revenue dropped by 3% and investment by 7.5%, according to data from the European Telecoms and Network Operators (ETNO) association.
"For the European economy and society to fully benefit from high-speed broadband […] the forthcoming NGA recommendation should strengthen incentives for private investment in next generation access networks and take into account the high risks involved," said ETNO Director Michael Bartholomew.