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European Union works to remove roam fees

BERLIN — The timetable is tight, and the key decision makers appear to be dug in and uncooperative. Yet a consensus is emerging that mobile phone roaming fees — the scourge of European travelers — may soon be a thing of the past.

When she announced in May her desire to ban the unpopular fees, which travelers pay in the 28-nation European Union outside their home countries, Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner responsible for telecommunications, was greeted with skepticism. And with less than 11 months left before the European Parliament’s legislative session ends June 30, some observers in Brussels thought Kroes had run out of time.

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But while most of official Brussels is on vacation, Kroes and her staff appear to be edging closer to a deal that could abolish the fees, which make up an estimated 5 percent of operators’ sales — but a bigger chunk of profits.

According to a copy of the draft regulation Kroes has circulated among members of the European Commission, operators would get an incentive to lower roaming rates to the level of domestic calling fees.

The incentive would be a big one: an exemption from a law passed last year, also initiated by Kroes, that will give EU consumers the option of buying roaming service from any operator on the continent, not just their own.

That means the local operator could lose a customer who is out of the country altogether if it does not lower the rates.

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