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Italian telcos fined for pricing collusion

Telecom Italia, Fastweb, Vodafone and Wind Tre have been fined a total of €228 million after an investigation found the four telcos had co-ordinated price hikes for consumers in 2017.

The complaints against the four telcos had been raised by Iliad, a fifth service provider in the market, as well as Onlus CODES Association and Altroconsumo, two consumer rights groups. The investigation has now been formally concluded with Telecom Italia taking a €114 million fine, Vodafone €60 million, Wind Tre €39 million and Fastweb €14 million.

Telcos are of course allowed to raise prices as they see fit, though when it is done in such a collective manner to prevent churn and competition, regulatory authorities will become nervous.

In this case, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) found the telcos aligned their commercial activities which violates item 137 of the Italian consumer code, though it is somewhat of a complicated story.

The Italian telco decided to move from a monthly billing cycle to a 28-day one in 2017, though as the prices were not decreased during this transition. Consumer and advocacy protests focused on the 8.6% price hike which would be experience over the course of the year, as the telcos were effectively creating a thirteenth billing month.

In 2018, the telcos decided to pivot back to the monthly billing standard, though there would be a price increase to compensate for the shift. The consumers were back to square one but were paying more for the pleasure.

The AGCM has now concluded the co-ordination between the telcos allowed each to keep the inflated tariffs, made it unnecessarily difficult to compare tariffs and unfairly prevented the consumer from searching for a better deal.

While it is very difficult to 100% guarantee the consumer will be safeguarded from underhanded and nefarious corporate practices, the AGCM is at least dishing out fines which will make a material impact on the spreadsheets. The telcos will of course be able to afford these fines, but the amount will certainly make them think twice about trying this sort of thing again.


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