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24 March 2009

Reding: The power to switch operator: Why we need empowered consumers on Europe's telecoms markets

23 March 2009

"I want all Europeans to be able to switch their phone operator – whether mobile or fixed – within one single day, as it is already the case in Ireland and in Malta."

The internet offers tremendous new opportunities to all of us. This is why from today onwards, every week on this website, I will talk about one of the many issues on my desk that concern you, EU citizens.

Today, I want to talk about the situation of consumers in Europe's telecomsmarkets. Just this morning, I got the results of a new report on my table which the Commission is publishing this week. This report shows that in spite of the present economic downturn, Europe is doing rather well in telecoms. While European consumers may hesitate to buy a new car or a new TV these days, they are communicating more, rather than less, via their phones and via the internet, especially in Europe. A recent opinion poll even showed that in Germany, young people would rather give up their boyfriend or girlfriend than their mobile phone subscription.

Europe is the economic area in the world where today, practically everybody has at least one mobile phone, and many citizens even have two. In contrast to this, in the United States, only 87 per cent of the population have a mobile phone subscription. Europe is clearly THE mobile continent, and this is not only good news for European telecoms operators, but also for each and every mobile phone user.

For consumers in Europe, the strong competition that the European Union has created in the mobile phone market is really now paying off. Today, European consumers pay 34.5 per cent less for making phone calls and sending text messages than they did 5 years ago.
But what is the European Union doing concretely to continue to cut your mobile phone bills?
One very effective instrument that we created, is the European rule that allconsumers have the right to switch their telephone operator without having to change their phone number.
Without this European rule, many of us certainly would think twice aboutchanging our service provider, even for a better deal elsewhere, because we then would have to go through the trouble of telling all our family and friends that we have a new number.
By being able to keep their number, for both mobile and fixed, consumers can look for the best deals on the market and take advantage of another operator offering cheaper prices. This right to switch operator also puts pressure on the telecoms companies to offer the most competitive deals so that they can either find new customers or keep their existing ones.

There is however a problem: In some European countries, it still takes very long for your telephone number to be really transferred to your new operator. You are very lucky if you are an Irish or Maltese consumer, because in these countries, you can do this within one day only. However, Polish and Italian consumers, I'm afraid to say, are not so fortunate. It takes 38 days to take your phone number to a different operator in Poland, and 15 days in Italy.

This is an intolerable situation. It distorts competition between operators inEurope's borderless single market and puts citizens in countries with less effective consumer rules at a disadvantage.
Therefore, I want all Europeans to be able to switch their phone operator – whether mobile or fixed – within one single day, as it is already the case in Ireland and in Malta.
Technically, this is very doable if operators and national regulators make an effort. I was recently in Hong-Kong where I saw that there, consumers can switch operator while keeping their number within 2 hours.
Europe should be ambitious when it comes to empowering our consumers.
Because empowered consumers are the best recipe for strong competition on the market, investment into attractive services and, at the end, lower prices for all. ...

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