At the end of 2020, the drafting of the detailed domestic rules of the new EU Electronic Communications Code fundamentally overhauled electronic communications regulation from the conclusion of the subscriber contract to its termination. In line with this, service providers had to revise their general terms and conditions (GTC) by 30 June 2021.
The changes aim, among other things, to strengthen consumer protection, make provider switching easier and ensure affordable and adequate broadband internet access for all users, regardless of where they live or their income. What are the new rules that consumers should also be aware of? The NMHH summarises the important changes by topics.
For some subscriber groups, in addition to the usual GTC and the individual subscriber contract, the prior information and a brief subscriber contract data summary shall become an integral part of the subscriber contract.
- Prior information: Upon conclusion of the subscriber contract, service providers should provide the subscribers with prior information on issues such as quality parameters of the service, tariffs or the duration of the subscriber contract, in addition to or as part of the GTC. The information should also clarify the conditions under which the subscriber can terminate a fixed-term contract, his or her rights in the event of non-performance, and provide a range of information on provider switching and porting of numbers. In addition, the subscriber should also be informed about the measures taken by the service provider to deal with security incidents and risks to the network in order to protect the security of networks and services. For some types of service, the prior information should also cover additional subjects.
- Contract summary: A brief summary of each offer should also be provided to the subscriber in a standardised format used throughout Europe, describing the elements of the contract in a clear and concise way. The individual subscriber contract will remain, but its main function is to record the data and declarations of the contracting parties.
2. Unilateral contract amendment
Service providers have the right to unilaterally amend the subscriber contract, and, in line with previous practice, they should notify to the subscribers 30 days in advance. However, the change is that the subscriber may terminate a contract within 45 days, not only those that have become unfavourable to them, but also any contract where substantive amendments have been introduced, even if it is a fixed-term contract in exchange for a discount, without further legal consequences.
Exceptions to this are if the amendment results from a legal obligation of the service provider, or is based on a decision by a public authority, or if the change is of benefit to the subscriber, or if it is of a purely administrative nature and has no negative effect on the subscriber.
3. Termination of a fixed-term contract
In certain cases, the subscriber is entitled to terminate his/her fixed-term contract without any adverse consequences, for example because of defective performance by the service provider or in the specific case of service packages described in point 4.
Defective performance in this case means if
- the service provider does not provide the service in accordance with the subscriber contract for 30 days,
- the service provider is unable to correct the fault for a further 15 days after the 72-hour time limit has expired without result,
- the subscriber reported more than 10 faults in the 90-day period before termination (even if the faults were rectified by the service provider),
However, in these cases, the service provider may claim reimbursement of any discounts related to the purchase of a handset, so the subscriber may lose the discount on the equipment (e.g. phone, TV set, laptop) that he/she received at a reduced price. In this case, the service provider can claim reimbursement of the discount it actually granted, taking into account the residual value of the equipment. The subscriber can also choose not to keep the equipment, and then, of course, he/she does not have to pay the discount. If they decide to keep the device, the network restriction must be lifted by the service provider free of charge at the latest at the time of settlement. If it is not done, the subscriber is also entitled to a penalty.
4. Service packages
If the subscriber’s package includes at least one internet or telephone service, the rules on a higher level of consumer protection should apply to all elements of the package. It shall be considered as a service package where the subscriber uses several services or terminal equipment (e.g. landline telephone or router) under a single subscriber contract or closely related contracts. In such cases, upon the service provider’s unilateral contract amendment, the subscriber may terminate the contract within 45 days without any adverse legal consequences, and this applies to all elements of the service package, as well as may request number portability within thirty-one days following the termination of the subscriber contract.
5. Provider switching
In addition to porting of numbers, subscribers can switch between Internet service providers with permanent access to the service. To do so, subscribers should apply to the new provider, who will arrange for the previous contract to be terminated and work with the previous provider to ensure that loss of service during the process of provider switching shall not exceed one working day. If the service provider is late or fails to connect the subscriber, the legislation provides for compensation to be paid. As a general rule, the compensation is paid to the subscriber by the recipient service provider.
If the subscriber uses an e-mail service from a service provider in addition to his/her internet subscription, and the internet access subscriber contract is terminated, the service provider should, at the subscriber’s request, provide access to the account for at least six months or forward messages to an e-mail address provided by the subscriber. After the termination of the subscriber contract, the service provider is obliged to provide the subscriber with access to the information stored on the electronic storage space related to his/her subscriber contract for one year.
6. Subsequent number portability is also possible and free of charge
If the subscriber terminates a contract, he/she may request to keep his/her number within one month after the termination of the contract. This is called subsequent number portability. This allows the former subscriber to port their number to another service provider for free.
7. Information on the cheapest charges
Service providers shall provide their subscribers with information on the best available tariffs at the request of the subscriber or at regular intervals as required by law: annually or three times within 90 days before the expiry of a fixed-term subscriber contract.
+ 1. Data protection
This is not really new, but the Code makes it clear that the term “for a fee” no longer means just a service settled by payment, but the subscriber also “pays” by providing personal or other data. So a free service can also be an electronic communications service – and is subject to the rules protecting users – if other definitions apply.
- Act C of 2003 on Electronic Communications (E-Communications Act)
- NMHH Decree 22/2020. (III. 30.) on the Detailed Rules of Electronic Communications Subscriber Agreements (new Electronic Communications Decree)
- NMHH Decree 23/2020on the Detailed Rules of Number Portability and Switching Providers