Telecoms giants suffered defeat yesterday (8 June) after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the European Commission was right to set price caps on mobile roaming charges.
The court decided that the EU's roaming regulation was legally sound, fair for protecting consumers and did not infringe the sovereignty of member states, because roaming is a cross-border phenomenon that needed a common response.
"[The] Court ruling is significant because it confirms the Commission's view that legislation of this type was necessary and that the EU was entitled to impose limits on the prices charged by mobile operators for roaming calls in the interest of the EU's Single Market," the Commission said, welcoming the ruling.
Vodafone, Telefónica, Orange, and T-Mobile originally filed a lawsuit at the UK High Court in September 2007, claiming that the EU's roaming regulation was not only too harsh but also did not have a legal basis.
The European Telecommunications and Network Operators (ETNO) Association declined to comment on the decision.
The ECJ's ruling also sets the scene for an EU clampdown on the costs of mobile phone usage, including calls, downloads and texts.
In late May, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes heaped criticism on Europe's fragmented telecoms market, accusing firms of failing to meet EU rules aimed at lowering call rates.
"The limited progress towards a true single market is disappointing," Kroes said in a statement aimed at the industry.
In addition to yesterday's ruling, the European Commission is studying new measures to bring down the price of cross-border calls, including the possibility of introducing ceilings on data roaming (EURACTIV 07/06/10).
The Commission also aims to eliminate price differences between national calls and roaming calls by 2015.
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.
According to Commission figures, mobile roaming charges have now fallen to 38 cents per minute across the bloc, while the average for all mobile phone calls is 13 cents per minute.