At the podium of the Senate, the socialist Rémi Cardon accuses in half a word, and with a smile on his lips, some of his colleagues of having yielded to telecom lobbying. “In my opinion, the operators have found the numbers of the deputies… Also of the senators certainly. For the past few days, a discreet amendment on the termination fees for telephone plans of more than one year has set fire to the powder between parliamentarians, and within telephone operators.
The latest version of the text, proposed by Rémi Cardon and adopted in the Senate this Friday, July 29, removes the 25% fee for the second year to be paid in the event of termination before expiry for conventional telephone subscriptions. Above all, it reduces this fee for bundles to 15%. The latter combine a commitment subscription and the acquisition of a telephone. This senatorial vote goes against the text voted in the National Assembly; and the wish of the government, represented in the Senate today by Olivia Grégoire: the majority wishes to maintain the termination fees for bundled offers at 25%.
Bundled offers represent 21% of telephone contracts
After an already epic battle in the National Assembly, the Senators are torn apart, in turn on the bundled telephone offers. Debates closely followed by telephone operators. Because the amendment could well impact their business model, already weakened. Bundled offers now represent 21% of telephone contracts. They accounted for 99.9% in 2010 and 35% in 2015 according to Arcep, which regulates the telecom market.
Read alsoLobbying and threat of an increase in mobile plans: telecoms respond to lower termination fees
In decline, they are no less a breath of fresh air for operators, representing 50% of telephone purchases from them. Planing the mattress resulting from the termination of these subsidized offers could jeopardize their existence. And all the more so since the second year of subscription to subsidized packages is generally more expensive than the first, and therefore more lucrative for operators.
The shortfall for operators would be significant if the termination fees for the second year were reduced from 25% to 15%: for a fixed price of 30 euros per month, they would drop from 90 euros to 54 euros. Something to delight the troublemaker Free, who has been fighting since 2012 and its arrival on the market against these bundled offers.
And enough to worry about Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR. After ten difficult exercises, the histories are just beginning to regain color. The amendment, initially a simple measure for purchasing power, therefore revives a controversial watch between Free and the operators around bundled offers. The fight even led Free and SFR to court in 2012.
The end of a profitable business model?
However, parliamentarians agree on the subject of reducing termination fees outside bundled offers, a measure of purchasing power. Republican MP Julien Dive, who came up with the idea for the original amendment, explains: “From a purchasing power point of view, if you end your two-year subscription at 30 euros per month after one year, you save the 25% cost of the second year to pay, i.e. 90 euros. It’s purchasing power.
On the other hand, it is the lower termination costs on bundled offers that divides. Macronist Eric Bothorel, who sought to exclude these packages from the text, explains: “I do not dispute the merits of Julien Dive’s approach. But the measure could encourage operators to give up these bundled offers”.
According to MP Bothorel, the price of the telephone would not be reimbursed after one year of subscription. Result: bundled subscriptions would become too risky in the event of early termination for operators with no termination fees for the second year. A threat to this offer, which, in the eyes of the deputy, would also affect the purchasing power of the French. The bundled offer allows citizens direct access to a mobile, says the elected official. UFC-Que Choisir disputes this interpretation. “Today, the operator is largely reimbursed before the first year, explains Antoine Autier, head of studies. We greatly overpay for the terminal in the package with subscription and it is more advantageous for the citizen to buy a telephone and subscribe separately”. Xavier Niel, the boss of Free was already tackling in 2021: “Buying a laptop with your package is often to be had”.
“Buying a laptop with your plan is often to be fooled”
If this stroke of the penknife in their income is confirmed, the three incumbent operators threaten to increase their prices. Senator Patrick Chaize, a supporter of maintaining termination fees for bundled offers, approves. “Today, an access price of 29.99 will increase to 35 euros mechanically,” he explained to the Senate, without further details.
This threat of soaring prices is not shared by Free. And for good reason: in April 2022, the telecom troublemaker announced that it would freeze the prices of its two mobile plans for five years. What undoubtedly cool the inflationary ambitions of its competitors. Especially since an article of the voted law aims to facilitate the termination of online subscriptions and therefore… to promote the change of operators.
It is therefore Free, for the moment, who is rubbing his hands. The free electron of the market does not offer a package with two years of commitment, nor a subsidized offer. Xavier Niel’s company did not hesitate to express its satisfaction with Senator Cardon, author of the amendment. He says he received an email of support from the operator after filing his version of the amendment. What corroborate the doubts of Senator Chaize who believes that the Cardon amendment is “pushed by Free” … and who recognizes at the same time to be in contact with telecoms in favor of maintaining fees. “I also had attempts to call from the public affairs managers of various operators who wanted to discuss with me, but I did not answer”, sweeps the socialist senator.
But Free could well be in turn in the sights of parliamentarians. MP Eric Bothorel believes that the Free Flex offer, which offers Free subscribers the opportunity to acquire the smartphone they rent, is based on the same mechanism, and should therefore also be included in the law, if the bundled packages are. . Otherwise, the risk would be to favor Free.
The parliamentary shuttle is far from over for the moment. The text will come back to the Assembly where the presidential camp is opposed to the reduction of termination fees for bundled offers. Minister Olivia Grégoire thus qualified the total maintenance of termination fees on bundled offers, in front of the Senators, as a “fair balance”. Discussions between politicians and operators are far from over.