Sunday, July 29, 2007

Brussels agrees on roaming regulation and closes competition investigations ....

Sometimes, the news comes in bits of pieces and only makes sense if you put the two together on a later date. Take for example the EU regulation to establish more modest roaming fees for mobile operators. At last the mobile industry stopped battling the initiative, understanding that it wouldn't make sense, given their pricing practices in the consumer domain.

And then a couple of weeks later, the Commission suddenly announces that it drops the competition investigation for mobile operators. Quite unusual as the FT notes:
The decision to draw a line under the high-profile cases is unusual because EU competition regulators rarely stop such inquiries without either securing a settlement or imposing a fine.

So where was the deal/settlement...?

My guess is that one and one makes two. The agreement between Commission and mobile operators clearly was that if they stopped resisting the roaming regulation, the Commission would stop the competition investigation in roaming.

Now, let's compare that deal to the situation in the banking sector. Already for 5 years there is the regulation that bank chargs should be equal (whether paying inside or to another euro-country). Which is effectively worse than the current roaming regulation (that allows for some higher prices in cross-border phoning). And at the same time there are still all kinds of threats and rulings to be expected with respect to interchange fees (the bank's equivalent of roaming agreements). With no one ever considering to drop those actions...

So why would it be that the Commisison continues to the debate on interchange rulings and interbank practices while completely dropping the roaming investigation?

My guess is that the Commission and EU Member States' governments, rationally distinguish between industries that are making them money and those that aren't. Any government would of course be more likely to be friendly to an industry that makes/has made you a lot of income (by buying some air/frequencies to do phoning) as opposed to an industry that is constantly ripping you of income (by killing cash seigniorage which is a nice source of government revenue).

Perhaps just another one of those cases of Schizophrenia?