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Europe to slash roaming fees. Pay heed, Rogers, Bell, Telus

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EC proposes wireless regulations One can only hope that executives of Canada's wireless industry are watching developments in Europe today.

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The European Commission unveiled a plan to slash roaming fees, by up to almost 80 per cent over three years based on reports, with binding regulations that would begin to take effect in a year. The plan would allow users to subscribe to a roaming plan that would be separate from their contract for national service.

"This proposal tackles the root cause of the problem - the lack of competition on roaming markets - by giving customers more choice and by giving alternative operators easier access to the roaming market," Neelie Kroes, the EU's vice-president, said in a statement from Brussels today.

"It would also immediately bring down prices for data roaming, where operators currently enjoy outrageous profit margins."

Her plan would allow certain companies into the roaming market, allow users to opt for an alternate provider for roaming, establish price caps, and stop "bill shock" by continuing to limit fees to €50 a month unless a customer chooses otherwise.

The plan proposed today by Ms. Kroes comes just weeks after a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed Canadian roaming fees are among the highest in the world for users travelling outside of North America.

China hikes rates China's central bank hiked its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point today in a continuing battle against inflation.

While there had been some speculation of such a move by the People's Bank of China, some observers were still surprised, believing that officials would hold off for a while yet. Markets fear that growth in China, the engine of the global recovery, is slowing, which would hit its trading partners hard.

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"For this reason, the announcement could add to growing concerns that policy makers are tightening too much and that efforts to control inflation will push China's economy into a hard landing," said Mark Williams, senior China economist at Capital Economics in London.

"We disagree (and note in passing that the consensus view not too long ago was that the People's Bank was 'behind the curve'). Higher borrowing costs from banks will make little difference in practice. Benchmark lending rates are still low relative to the pace of economic growth. The constraint on credit growth is the amount that banks can lend rather than the rates they charge."

Inflation has been on a steady climb in China, largely driven by food prices, amid repeated attempts by Beijing to cool things down.

"While China has raised reserve requirements several times, pushing the reserve ratio to a record 21.5 per cent for the biggest lenders, this has not been enough to slow momentum," said Derek Holt and Karen Cordes Woods of Scotia Capital. "Indeed, while we are expecting Chinese growth to slow this year, we are still expecting to witness a growth rate above 9 per cent."

Europe a mess Foreign investors in Europe should just pack up and go home, though it would be hard to get a cab to the Athens airport because Greek taxi drivers are on strike.

Europe is truly a mess today. Government borrowing costs have spiked again, Portugal is fighting with Moody's, and Standard & Poor's is fighting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And the people of Greece are fighting with just about everybody.

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As major European banks meet in Paris to try to sort out some of the debt woes, stocks are sinking fast and bond yields are spiking in the wake of the Moody's downgrade of Portuguese debt yesterday.

"Today's meeting of international banks in Paris will now take on an even greater importance in the light of yesterday's move, given that concerns about restructuring had until now only been confined to Greece," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson. "Moody's move yesterday certainly doesn't make life any easier for the banks, or the politicians."

European leaders are struggling to get a grip on the debt crisis, made more uncertain by a warning from S&P earlier this week that a plan by French and German banks to roll over some of their Greek debt would be treated as a default. That would put the European Central Bank in a tight spot given that it can't accept as collateral the debt of a deadbeat.

Yesterday, Ms. Merkel said the groups at the centre of the bailout efforts, the EU, ECB and International Monetary Fund, should forget about the rating agencies and do what they think best.

Wineries feel pinch Canada's strong dollar is eroding the competitiveness of the wine industry by driving up the cost of exports, at the same time making it cheaper for consumers to buy imports from countries like Argentina and Australia.

That is hastening the need for Canadian vintners to grow domestic market share and cultivate demand for niche products like ice wine in high-growth Asian countries such as China, says a new report by Bank of Montreal, The Globe and Mail's Rita Trichur reports today.

In Personal Finance today The problem, says Preet Banerjee, is that many people can't afford their reno and take on debt to finance it.

The investment style of Warren Buffett looks very similar to strategies employed by women, says LouAnn Lofton.

From today's Report on Business

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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