Brno, Czech Republic – Within the last few years, great improvements have been made regarding mobile access and affordability within the EU. In one of its most visible policies of the last few years, the EU free mobile roaming in all member states. As many recent polls show, numerous EU citizens say they are more satisfied with their phone plans and accessibility than before.
In that regard, the Czech Republic stands out as a counter-example, and is known to have some of the most expensive mobile phones plans in the EU – although being also known for its relatively cheap cost of living compared to the rest of Europe. This isn’t exclusively a Czech problem, as countries like Cyprus, Greece and Hungary also experience much higher prices than their immediate neighbors.
Not many Central European countries face such large mobile prices. Poland has excellent rates for mobile tariffs, as the average unlimited data plan in Poland is around 15 Euros (or 300 Kc), including from T-Mobile who, at the same time, offers only 500 Mb for 500 Kc in the Czech Republic. For many Czechs, this is a slap in the face.
How are the mobile tariffs in the Czech Republic, and what steps are politicians taking towards solving the problem? Who’s to blame: consumers themselves or mobile operators? All the answers here.
Czech Republic has among most expensive mobile tariffs
Czechs pay much more than the majority of EU countries, according to a 2018 EU Commission analysis. The average EU customer spends around 33 Euro on 20 GB of data, while Czechs would have to pay almost 55 Euro for the same amount. A 2017 study by the organization telefonujici.cz found that mobile tariffs in the Czech Republic were on average 79% higher than the EU average.
To but it bluntly, mobile tariffs in the Czech Republic are among the most expensive in the EU, along with countries like Hungary or Greece.
The phone plans are all very similar and homogeneous among the Czech Republic’s three mobile providers (T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2), along with little variation in pricing. Czech mobile companies offer large amounts of data, but none offer truly unlimited plans to the public. Although unlimited data plans were temporarily offered by Vodafone and T-Mobile, they’re far from spectacular. T-Mobile offered an unlimited plan for the summer from June 20th until August 31st. Vodafone soon followed and released an unlimited plan, but the plan requires a minimum of 2 phones. On top of that, it’s offered only to existing home internet customers.
Earlier this year, the major mobile provider O2 promised to offer tariffs that had more value for a smaller price. However, the plan failed to convince anyone, with the lowest tariff starting at 749 crowns (30 Euro) for 3 GB of data a month.
According to some analysts, many Czech mobile customers actually pay lower tariffs by negotiating and receiving customer specials and discounts. However, no one can say how many people are able to benefit from such deals.
Who is to blame for the high tariffs?
The argument is at a standstill on who’s at the source of the problem: the consumers or mobile operators?
Despite the pressing problem and complaints from consumers, it has taken a long time for politicians and regulators to take proactive steps to resolve this worsening issue. Staff from the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade have shown time and time again that this issue is not of high importance and take no responsibility for the current state of mobile tariffs. All across the board, it’s uncertain whether they would rather blame the consumers or mobile operators.
In early 2017, the telecommunication director for the Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Lubomír Bokštefl bluntly recommended that if a Czech customer wants better mobile tariffs, that they should “go to Poland”.
Putting the blame on consumers for high prices was echoed by Marta Nováková, the former Minister of Industry and Trade who was recently fired over a whole other issue (although one of her predecessors, Jan Mladek, was forced to resign over his inability to implement lower mobile tariffs two years ago). Nováková explained that high prices are due to the low number of customers purchasing high tariffs and using data. She claimed that if Czechs bought the higher-priced data plans and used it more often, the phone companies would be able to lower the overall prices of the tariffs. She stated that another possible cause could be that Czechs use public WiFi networks too much.
Most analysts, however, called her comments absurd and blamed the situation on the lack of competition and the cartel-like oligopoly between mobile operators. Prime minister Andrej Babiš has played as a vocal critic of the high tariffs and slammed Nováková’s comments: “I do not understand or agree with the statements of the Minister. I think they were really unfortunate to consumers and our citizens”.
The UOHS, the Office for the Protection of Competition, expressed back in 2017 that mobile providers were not busing their power and were offering the cheapest plans that were available to them. Despite this claim, a 15-year long case against T-Mobile and Vodafone accused of creating a mafia-like pact against smaller operators BT and Cesky Telecom was investigated as early as 2000. In total, T-Mobile and Vodafone were fined 11.5 million crowns before the case was eventually annulled last year.
Generally speaking, the Czech Office for the Protection of Competition, as well as the Czech Telecommunications Office, haven’t found any tangible proof of cartel-like behavior from the country’s three mobile services providers.
The future of tariffs in Czechia
Because of the continuous shift of blame, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon. However, there have been growing talks, initiated by announcements by the Czech Telecommunications Office (CTU) about the possible entry of a fourth telecoms operator in the Czech Republic – including from world leader AT&T or some European companies – on whom people pin their hopes of greater competition and lower prices.
Nevertheless, the wait for lower mobile prices in the Czech Republic appears far from over.
Written by Lorna Radtke
Born in Chicago, Lorna Radtke is a student of international relations and European politics at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and previously also lived in Austria. Her desire to dive into European politics began during her secondary education years in the United States, her home country. Eager to pursue her interest in media and journalism by researching intriguing topics and writing original articles, she joined the team of Kafkadesk contributors in April 2019. Feel free to browse through Lorna’s articles right here!