Bulgaria's anti-trust commission is likely to launch a probe into a possible mobile price cartel after both Sofia and Brussels rose up against the rates charged by local mobile operators, the highest in Europe.
The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) will decide whether to carry out an analysis of the mobile services market after receiving the results of the finance ministry's check, its spokesman said on Wednesday.
It is only on the basis of the finance ministry's findings that the commission may decide whether to suspect abuse of a dominant market position and possible cartel agreements, the spokesman added.
Earlier in the day Bulgaria's Finance Minister Simeon Djankov said he has launched a probe into the allegedly inflated prices that local mobile operators charge, promising justice for the clients.
He conceded that tariffs have been falling in Bulgaria over the last two or three years, but at a much slower pace than the average European levels.
The heated debate over the exorbitant prices Bulgarians pay for mobile calls was triggered by the European Commission warning that it will sanction the country over the inflated prices.
The Commission is about to issue recommendations which the Bulgarian regulatory authority CRC will be "obliged to take into utmost account", Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said, as cited by EurActive.
The statement came in reply to a question by Andrey Kovachev, MEP from the ruling party GERB, who inquired how the commission plans to resume cuts to mobile termination rates,
Bulgaria's watchdog, the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) cut termination rates to 6.64 eurocents/min (July 2010) under Brussels pressure, but while the EU average already stands below 4.91 eurocents/min, levels in Bulgaria remain unchanged.
CRC has promised that it will undertake steps to resume cuts to mobile rates and bring them down by up to 25% as of next year, but the regulatory body seems to have no efficient tools to force the operators into that.
CRC has previously threatened the mobile operators with sanctions, but these appear ridiculously low compared to the companies' profits.