Great news for Czech consumers. That is how the Ministry of Industry and Trade heralded Wednesday’s lower house of parliament approval for the third and final reading of a new electronic communications law.
One of the goals of the new law was the move to free up frequency for mobile Internet applications in the expected boom to come for more data and applications flowing to and from mobile devices. That in itself was the subject for some controversy with satellite tv companies saying one of their main rivals was set as a result for a state aid windfall.
But the government’s main focus was not on freeing up frequency for mobile data in the not too distant future but in getting a better deal for Czech mobile users in the here and now. And the government believes that it has probably done just that with powerful lobby pressures resisted and the proposal getting through the third reading almost unscathed.
The proposed changes cut the minimum timeframe for switching mobile phone operators from 42 days to 10 days. And consumers will be given the right to change without any penalty if the operator itself has initiated some unilateral change in the agreement.
More power to consumers, but also more power to the telecoms regulator with it given the possibility to dramatically increase fines from the current ceiling of 20 million crowns to 10 percent of annual turnover. That is a substantial increase and the level of punishment commonly used by the European Commission to discourage cartel practices.
The moves seek to turnaround the Czech mobile market and charges for consumers which not only compare unfavourably to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe but also to much richer West European countries. They also seek to pave the way for the much hailed but slow to arrive major fourth mobile operator on the Czech market. With Senate approval and the president’s signature, the hope is that the package will be in force ahead of October’s expected parliamentary elections.
All this is well and good, but the late government rush to establish better consumer rights for Czech mobile users does beg the question why this was not done before and why the market regulator, the Czech Telecommunication Office (ČTÚ) was at best for long seen as a toothless market watcher and at worst as abetting the big mobile operators in their abuse of consumers.
Czechs have been promised mobile revolutions and new deals before. The arrival of the third operator, originally Oscar now Vodafone, back in 2000 was supposed to bring a new deal and competition but it eventually just appeared to enlarge the cosy club.