Top 4 telecom providers fined millions over misleading sales pitches

T-Mobile shop in Amsterdam
Exterior of a T-Mobile store in Amsterdam. Jan. 19, 2017JoeppoulssenDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

The four top telecom providers in the Netherlands were fined a combined total of 13.2 million euros by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). All four were alleged to have provided "incorrect and incomplete information about their offerings" on their consumer-facing websites, the ACM said on Monday.

T-Mobile received the largest fine, 3.9 million euros, followed by KPN and Vodafone, which were fined 3.5 and 3.1 million, respectively. Tele2 was also fined 2.7 million euros. It was the first time in the ACM's history that it fined a business based on its annual turnover. The organization is allowed to issue fines of either a maximum of 900 thousand euros, or one-percent of a firm's turnover, whichever is higher.

Each of the four were accused of failing to clearly present one-off costs which made their offers look cheaper than they were in reality.

“Websites are a key channel with which telecom providers communicate with consumers," wrote ACM board member Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh. She said it is vital that consumers are clearly informed of all costs involved. "Furthermore, incorrect or incomplete information may lead to unfair competition.”

T-mobile and Tele2 were also accused of offering "unlimited data" plans, when in reality, "this was not the case within the EU." When EU mobile phone customers are in any member state, their domestic mobile plans are supposed to remain valid as if they were in their home state.

KPN also had violations stemming from their unlimited plans which were actually capped at "a maximum of 3,000 voice minutes or texts applied," the ACM said.

Vodafone's fine was also because they offered five-euro discounts on mobile plans in combination with a phone, but only to existing Ziggo broadband customers.

The ACM said that, in the past, it had already discussed implementation of the country's laws regarding pricing and mobile plans wit the four telecom providers that received fines. The organization said its argument was laid out in a four-page document sent to the telecoms in the Summer of 2018.