Eurobites: UK Mobile Operators Slammed for Overcharging on Handsets

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: KPN boss to step down next April; EU gets tough on OTTs and privacy; more UK spectrum auction ructions.

  • UK mobile phone companies are facing a public relations salvage operation after having been accused of profiteering at the expense of loyal, often more elderly, customers by a leading consumer rights organization. Citizens Advice says that customers of Vodafone UK , EE and Three UK who choose to remain on the same phone plan after their fixed deal expires -- and after, in theory at least, the cost of their handset has been paid off -- do not get their bills reduced. This means, says Citizens Advice, that such customers are paying on average £22 (US$29) a month for a phone they have already paid off. And for those with high-end phones such as the iPhone 8, the equivalent charge could be as much as £46 ($60.64) a month. Citizens Advice research found that people aged over 65 were most likely to suffer, with 23% of over-65s with a handset-inclusive mobile phone contract staying in their contract for over 12 months past end of the fixed-deal period. The organization now wants mobile operators to clearly separate out the cost of a handset from the cost of mobile phone services, and to reduce their customers' bills when those customers choose to stay in the same contract past the end of a fixed-term deal.

  • Eelco Blok, the current CEO of KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN), is to step down from the role in April 2018, making way for Maximo Ibarra. Blok has enjoyed two terms as CEO at the Dutch incumbent and has been on the KPN board for 12 years. His successor, as CEO of Italy's Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA , recently led the merger between Wind and H3G, creating Wind Tre.

  • The European Parliament has voted to toughen up the privacy rules as they relate to online "over-the-top" communications services such as WhatsApp and Skype, Reuters reports. Under the lawmakers' proposals, both traditional telcos and OTT players will have to ask for and receive users' consent before tracking them and targeting them with "personalized" ads.

  • The ructions over the UK's forthcoming spectrum auction continue to make the news: The Financial Times reports (subscription required) that BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has extended its legal challenge to the rules governing the auction, a challenge which has already helped bring about a judicial review of the process in December. The initial rumpus centered on whether or not regulator Ofcom should impose a cap on how much spectrum any one operator can own and, if so, at what level that cap should be set. Now, however, BT has introduced another wrinkle, relating to rival operator 3's acquisition of UK Broadband, and how the particular type of spectrum 3 acquired through that acquisition could skew the whole spectrum auction process. (See Eurobites: UK Regulator Accuses BT & Three of Erecting 5G Roadblocks, Hot Air: UK 5G Spectrum Dispute and 5G Spectrum Wars – The Recap.)

  • Back in Brussels, EU bigwigs say they want to see firm proposals on how to fairly tax online giants such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) by early 2018, Reuters reports. While certain countries, such as Ireland, are happy with the way such companies are taxed, as it helps bring tech-related jobs to their shores, many others, such as Italy, France and the UK believe the online giants are getting away with murder, fiscally speaking. (See Eurobites: Don't Pick On Apple, Says Irish Telecom Tycoon and Eurobites: EU Wants Tax Transparency From Tech Titans.)

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

  • Eurobites will be taking a break next week but will return, refreshed, on October 30.

  • James_B_Crawshaw 10/20/2017 | 2:10:45 PM
    KPN CEO Under the management of Mr Blok's predecessor, Ad Scheepbouwer, KPN was considered one of the best run European incumbents. When Mr Blok took over in 2011 everything seemed to go wrong. Although factors like WhatsApp were outside his control the other Dutch mobile operators weren't as badly affected. KPN was very late to adjust its tariffs for the arbitrage between data and voice/sms. Let's hope Maximo Ibarra inherits a company that is now on a firmer footing. Perhaps with his Colombian heritage he will be culturally more open to a conversation with Carlos Slim ...
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