Czech minister blames consumers for phone rates

The government seems to have given up on lowering mobile data rates

The Czech Republic has some of the most expensive phone data packages in Europe, but it looks like the government won’t be trying to lower the rates.

The high cost of mobile service has long been an issue. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš previously called for intervention, but current Industry and Trade Marta Nováková now says it is up to the open market to set rates.

Minister Nováková (for ANO) told public broadcaster Czech Television that the blame for the high data rates rests with Czech consumers, who prefer to use free WiFi than pay for service. If more people paid for data, then prices would come down as the costs for infrastructure and maintenance would be more spread out.

It is a self-perpetuating cycle, she claims. “You will hear someone repeat, ‘we have expensive data, we have expensive data.’ So they do not connect to the internet using data, but look for free WiFi,” Nováková told the news show 168 hodin.

“And here we are. Less data is used because people avoid it, so they do not contribute to it being cheaper,” she said.

Prime Minister Babiš (ANO) in the past promised to address the situation. “The Anti-Monopoly Office (ÚOHS) and the Czech Telecommunications Office (ČTÚ) must create a competitive environment to reduce prices, including the price of mobile data, and to improve the status of customers,” Babiš said two years ago. Three main companies control the mobile market in the Czech Republic.

He added that previously then-industry and trade minister Jan Mládek (ČSSD) had also tried to lower rates during the previous government, but was unsuccessful.

According to 2018 European Commission report, when corrected for purchasing power, the most expensive EU countries for data plans are Greece, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Hungary.

The Czech Republic is often between 50 percent and three-quarters more expensive than the EU average for different plans.

“The Czech Republic is in the cluster of expensive countries in respect of mobile broadband and telephony in the EU. In every usage basket, the least expensive offer is significantly above the EU average,” the EC report stated.

Poland, Italy, Austria, Lithuania and Latvia were the cheapest. In Poland, for example, consumers can get unlimited data for about Kč 300 per month. In Italy, it is possible to get unlimited calling and 30 GB of data for about Kč 160. Basic Czech packages with lower limits start at much higher rates, even though in some cases the parent companies are the same as those in Poland or other cheaper countries.

While the EU intervened to lower roaming rates for mobile phones. It will not get involved in rates in individual member states, as those are local matters.

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