By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union member states came under fire from the bloc's head of digital policy on Tuesday for resisting efforts to scrap mobile phone roaming charges for consumers.
Though the removal of the charges is a priority for the European Commission as it seeks to spur cross-border telecoms competition, EU members concerned about the effect on operators have proposed that any ban should be held back until 2018 at the earliest.
"I'm waiting for the abolition of roaming surcharges, but I'm afraid (the European) Council is not ambitious enough today," Andrus Ansip, who oversees the digital single market for the European Commission, told Reuters.
Last year the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to end roaming fees within the EU by the end of 2015 after complaints by data-hungry consumers over the high cost of charges levied by operators such as Vodafone and Orange.
Former Estonian prime minister Ansip described the fees as a "wrong financial decision" because they deterred people from using their phones abroad.
"Service providers have to say to their customers 'don't use our services when traveling to other countries, it will be too expensive, it will kill your budget'," Ansip said.
But member states with cheap domestic rates, such as those in eastern Europe, worry that their operators will be forced to raise domestic prices unless there is a lowering of the wholesale tariffs they pay other operators when their customers travel abroad.
Under the latest proposal, seen by Reuters, customers would pay domestic rates to access mobile internet data within the EU up to a limited daily allowance of 5 megabytes (MB).
A 5 MB allowance is equivalent to downloading about 15 emails with attachments, or 250 without attachments.
Operators would be able to levy a surcharge for usage above the allowance, but it would be capped at the maximum wholesale prices operators pay each other.
A final version of the law will be negotiated between EU lawmakers, member states and the Commission.
Ansip would not be drawn on whether the Commission could withdraw the entire proposal and put forward a new one.
"We need to give a chance for these negotiations to succeed and bring concrete results for citizens and companies as soon as possible," he said.
(Editing by David Goodman)