A bid to scrap all mobile phone "roaming" charges by 2014 has been defeated, as a war of words broke out between the European Commission and Vodafone over a continued crackdown on the sector.
Compulsory maximum roaming rates were first imposed on mobile network operators nearly five years ago to tackle what the commission called the "roaming rip-off" - the operators were said to be making profits of more than 200% for mobile calls made while in another EU country, and 300% or 400% for calls received.
The gap between domestic and "roaming" call charges has fallen by about 75% compared with 2007, with Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes vowing to reduce the gap to "almost nothing" by 2015. Now a committee of MEPs has rejected pressure to eliminate the difference by 2014, recommending instead another round of charge cuts this summer.
Labour's Peter Skinner said: "There's no need for phone companies to have any roaming charges at all. This compromise would bring down phone charges and data roaming charges across the EU in time for this year's summer holidays.
"Phone companies are still using international travel as a way of ripping off customers: airwaves know no international borders so it's crazy for customers to pay loads for a phone call from Dover to Calais 21 miles away, while Dover to the Shetlands, hundreds of miles away off the coast of Scotland, costs much less. This applies across all territorial international borders within the EU."
Mr Skinner added: "I call on Communications Minister Ed Vaizey to get the British Government to support consumers' rights and not cave into pressure from their supporters who run the mobile phone industry."
Meanwhile, Ms Kroes rounded on Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Colao who called for a "moratorium on regulation" in the telecoms sector, warning that mobile phone companies would cut investment in networks unless the EU stopped imposing price cuts.
Ms Kroes responded in a statement saying: "Message to Vittorio and Vodafone: I call your bluff, and indeed do not respond well to threats. I take the side of the Vodafone customer. Remember, if consumers lose their fear of using their smartphones and tablets when travelling across Europe, operators will benefit as well."
Action by Brussels against high roaming charges has been one of the most popular consumer-driven moves by the EU but it has complained that putting a price cap on charges has not removed the problem of open competition because operators all generally charge at the top of the price cap.