The European Commission said competition commissioner Karel Van Miert has ordered an investigation into the charges for international phone calls paid to dominant telephone operators.
The investigation will look at the so-called accounting rates. Currently, these are required to be cost-oriented within the EU and must meet the EU's interconnection directive on wholesale rates.
"Competition services will scrutinise the current accounting rate arrangements within the EU, with a view to furthering this goal of cost orientation," the EC said.
"Requests for information are therefore being sent to all dominant telecommunication operators in the EU in order to collect the information necessary to assess the competition aspects of the accounting rate arrangements.?
The information includes procedures, agreements and minutes of meetings setting the accounting rates, and the amounts of accounting rates within the EU and on routes to the US and Japan, it said.
Other information being sought from operators covers the costs involved in forwarding international calls, the local network, the national network, international gateways, exchanges and transmission facilities. The operators will also be required to provide information on revenues and profits derived from accounting rates activity.
In parallel, national telecomms regulators are implementing the interconnection directive, and this will be monitored by telecommunications commissioner Martin Bangemann, the Commission said.
"Those two approaches will therefore be coordinated; national competition authorities and national telecommunications regulators have already been informed," it said.
Telecomms markets are being liberalised in most EU member states from 1 January. This will have an important impact on the price of national and international calls.
The accounting rate is a charge agreed between telecomms operators in the countries where the call originates and terminates. Each of the companies usually receives half of this rate.
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