EU looks to address cross-border texting charges

Frustrated by lack of action among Europe's cellular carriers, the European Commission said Tuesday it would move to mandate lower prices for intra-European texting.

An average of €0.29 ($0.46 USD) is charged for messages, virtually unchanged since February when the EC first asked for a voluntary price drop at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Officials argued there that the higher pricing goes against the "borderless market" concept that European countries first started working towards a half-century ago. While fees are roughly equivalent to what the rest of the world pays while in the consumer's home country, it skyrockets when traveling through the rest of Europe.

For example, French consumers may pay as much as €0.30 ($0.48 USD), Germans €0.41 ($0.66 USD), a UK resident €0.63 ($1.01 USD), and a Belgian resident may pay as high as €0.80 ($1.28 USD).

Compare this to American carriers: T-Mobile charges 35 cents for each outgoing message and 15 cents or a text message from the feature bucket when texting from abroad. AT&T charges 50 cents per message sent and 20 cents per message received.

Given that comparison, the EC is calling the typical European texting fee a rip-off. "It is not a good sign for the competitiveness of Europe's mobile industry that it still hasn't got the message that credible price reductions are needed to avoid regulation," EC president José Manuel Barroso said.

"I will therefore recommend to my fellow Commissioners that we propose a regulation of SMS roaming in October," he continued, adding it would also look into lowering data roaming charges as well at that same meeting.

The target price being set by regulators is between 11 to 15 euro cents, which when translated to US dollars would essentially price this messages on par with domestic messaging here, which currently averages around 20 cents.

It will also press the industry publicly, having redesigned its Web site on the topic of roaming to include information on how each carrier charges for intra-European texts.

Regulators in Europe have taken a much more proactive approach to price regulation than their counterparts in the US. While the EU appears to already or be on the way to issuing edicts on pricing for mobile voice, data, and text usage, the US is only now beginning to look at the industry's pricing more closely.

Two issues that have already been bantered about in recent months are early termination fees, and carrier exclusivity deals with manufacturers over handsets -- the latter gaining steam following AT&T's signing of a deal with Apple over the iPhone.

So far, neither issue has resulted in any action at the federal level.

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