[WATCH] Labour MEP accuses telecoms companies of price-fixing after raising charges

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba says Go-Melita-Epic decision to increase fees for clients who do not use direct debit to pay for their services, could be price-fixing

Alex Agius Saliba has taken up the mantle for consumers
Alex Agius Saliba has taken up the mantle for consumers

Updated at 8pm with ministry statement

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba has suggested Malta’s telecommunications companies might be engaged in price-fixing, after Go, Epic and Melita informed customers of price increase in the course of the last few days.

Agius Saliba said the three companies had told their clients that they would be charged by anything between €1 and €2 for each service, should they keep on paying their bills in cash, without a direct debit banking facility.

Agius Saliba took the three companies to task, accusing them of a concerted move that ultimately punishes those with the least digital access or vulnerable clients like the elderly.

“Having a telephone, cable TV or an internet service is an essential service, and this move affects the consumers who are the most vulnerable, who cannot use certain services like direct debit, especially where banks are reducing their physical branches,” Agius Saliba said.

The MEP even revealed that the three companies had attempted to request an exemption from the communications regulator, the MCA, from having to give clients the right to terminate their contracts.

Agius Saliba said he had called the MCA, who informed him that the companies were bound to inform clients of the increasing prices, as well as giving them the option to terminate their contract with immediate effect within 30 days. “The MCA refused to exempt the companies from this obligation… this was good on the MCA’s part, having upheld EU rules from the Communications Code.”

But Agius Saliba added that this move was also creating a serious imbalance, between clients who must pay a penalty to terminate their contract before it expires, and those clients who today have the opportunity to terminate it with immediate effect. “This why the letters from the companies have arrived to the clients in a matter of a few days,” the MEP said.

Agius Saliba has filed a European consumers’ complaint against the move by Go, Epic and Melita, suggesting that this concerted effort could amount to price-fixing that gives no alternative to consumers. “Any client terminating their contract will have no alternative to change its service to another company, because they are all charging them higher fees for not using direct debit services.”

Consumer rights minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said in a statement on Thursday evening that she would be contacting the Office for Competition within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority to investigate whether the price increase violates competition law.  

The move was welcomed by Agius Saliba, who said “nobody has the right to abuse of clients’ basic rights”.

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