2018 could bring to the consumer market horizon a significant change in the field of providing phone services. The financial measures adopted for 2018 have finally put a legislative end to the 28-day billing period practice, carried on by telephone service providers for over two years, which has been proven to be detrimental in its effects for consumers.
During 2015, all the main telephone companies operating in the Italian market adopted a 28-day billing period instead of the usual monthly one, which granted the telephone companies with the payment of an additional month every year, resulting from the sum of the 2/3 days removed from every monthly invoice, to be paid by the users. The consumers could choose to pay for this thirteenth extra month or, as an alternative, to withdraw from the agreement (and move to another telephone service provider which however would be likely to apply the same billing method since basically all the phone operators active in the Italian market adopted this practice). The obvious consequence was a considerable rise of the costs sustained by the Italian consumers for telephone, both fixed and mobile, services (such rise was estimated in around 8.5% yearly) and an increase of profits for the providers.
On 15 March 2017, Italian Communications Authority sanctioned the described practice with respect to four telephone service providers – but exclusively in relation to landline and hybrid phone services (i.e. for landline and landline plus mobile offers) – requiring the companies to change their billing procedure by 23 June 2017.
None of the Italian telephone operators resolved to comply with the Authority’s decision within the abovementioned notice period since a proceeding against such decision was still pending before the Administrative Court.
Therefore, the situation remained de facto unchanged until the Authority intervened again on the subject on 21 December 2017 by (i) re-sanctioning the abovementioned four companies; (ii) doubling the financial penalty, which now amounts to around 1,160,000 Euro for each operator and (iii) with respect to the reimbursement due to customers, providing that the companies will not have to refund the consumers but, instead, they will have to cancel from the first invoice to be issued on a monthly basis pursuant to such decision the amount corresponding to the deducted days, starting from 23 June 2017.
As regards to the legislative perspective, an express prohibition of the 28-day billing practice – with respect to TLC and tv services – has been inserted in the newly approved financial measures for year 2018 and, therefore, it will become effective in April 2018.
In particular, pursuant to art. 19-quinquiesdecies, of the Annex to art. 1 of Law no. 172/2017, the operators have to adopt a billing period calculated on a monthly or multiple-month basis within 120 days from the coming into force of the aforesaid law.
In case of infringement of the above-mentioned obligation the Authority can order the operator to cease the relevant practice and to reimburse the customer within a term to be decided by the Authority on a case by case basis (in any case not shorter than 30 days).
Moreover, Law no. 172/2017 imposes a forfeit indemnification equal to 50 Euro for each customer plus 1 Euro for each day of breach following the expiry of the given term to comply.
Some doubts still remain as regards to if and how the two reimbursement procedures (the Authority’s one and the legislative one) will both be actually implemented, since they appear to be quite different and non-compatible with each other.