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China cuts roaming service charges
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China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) jointly announced on Wednesday the country's mobile roaming service charges would be lowered starting from Mar. 1 amid fervor of consumer expectation to entirely abolish them.

Mobile phone users would be charged 0.6 yuan (about 8 U.S. cents) per minute for making calls outside the local service area, and 0.4 yuan, or about 5 cents, per minute for receiving calls when they travel to another province, according to the new plan.

It compares with current charges of 1.3 yuan to 1.5 yuan per minute for the roaming service for Chinese cell-phone users under different payment schemes, prepaid or paying monthly.

This means that the country's 539 million mobile subscribers would be able to enjoy price cuts ranging from 54 percent to 73 percent from next month on, or no later than May 1.

Service providers could be allowed to delay the implementation of the new plan due to time needed for technological upgrading of their charging systems.

The announcement also made it clear that no further fees, which are currently an additional 0.07 yuan, or 1 U.S. cent, for every six seconds, would be charged if the roaming service occupies a long-distance phone line.

The country's move to cut such charges is in response to increasing complaints from mobile phone users about the telecom industry reaping handsome profits by charging monopolistic prices.

Previously, a public hearing was held on cutting charges for domestic mobile roaming services in January to discuss two proposed plans, which have aroused heated discussions and disputes.

The hearing was attended by five consumers -- including one from Beijing -- as well as representatives from mobile service providers, experts, scholars and relevant government officials.

The two ministries in charge said most representatives at the hearing had supported plan B, which offers more favorable price cuts than plan A, except service providers, who wanted plan A.

The final plan was a further improvement based on plan B, which proposes a charge of 0.7 yuan per minute for making calls and 0.3 yuan for receiving calls for all users, according to the two ministries.

A consumer representative by the name of Shen Changzheng, who attended the hearing, said the final plan "was acceptable, but was not up to expectations of consumers", adding "there was still a great gap."

Local services currently cost 0.4 yuan, or 5 U.S. cents, per minute for users paying monthly, and 0.6 yuan, or 8 U.S. cents, for those under prepaid schemes

Some users actually enjoyed free incoming calls thanks to service packages offered by service providers, again efforts made to lower mobile service charges amid mounting consumer complaints.

And there is indeed some gap between roaming service charges and local service charges under the new plan.

An online survey conducted by the MII in May 2007 showed that about 63.77 percent of 30,000 respondents supported an equal charge for domestic roaming services and local services.

Only about 22.55 percent considered it reasonable to pay an additional 0.01 to 0.1 yuan per minute for roaming services.

Mobile service providers had explained such service fees were charged to cover the extra operational costs incurred when cross-province calls were transferred from one local operator to another.

Experts, however, said new technologies had lowered operational costs - some argued roaming calls actually incur no extra cost for the operators.

(Xinhua News Agency February 14, 2008)

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