The AGCOM takes the field in defense of consumers: stop the special 5 and 10 euro top-ups that provided only 4 and 9 euros of traffic
So much thunder that it finally rained: the Guarantor Authority of Communications (AGCOM) has published a document in which it invites telephone operators offering "special" recharges of 5 and 10 euros (Tim, Wind and Vodafone) to stop the practice and restore the previous situation. After months of controversy that have seen the protagonists of the Consumer Associations, with complaints that have come up to the Antitrust Authority, AGCOM has also taken an official position to protect users.
For what reason Agcom has taken the field against telephone operators? And what are the "special" recharges of 5 and 10 euros? To fully understand the situation we need to take a step back, to the early months of the year when TIM was the first to introduce the 10 euro "premium" top-up. The telephone operator launched Ricarica+, a special top-up costing 5 and 10 euros which, instead of providing the amount paid by the user, offers credit for 4 and 9 euros. The remaining euro is used to activate promotions and daily bonuses. After TIM, also Vodafone and Wind have decided to launch the special recharges, respectively Giga Ricarica and Ricarica Special.
The new 5 and 10 euro denominations have replaced the old recharges in the authorized retailers (tobacconists, bars, newsagents) that is the places most used by users to recharge the credit of their phone. In many cases users did not know they were buying a special top-up and found themselves with one euro less than they had budgeted.
What are the special top-ups
TIM, Vodafone and Wind have launched new top-ups of 5 and 10 euros that are gradually replacing the "classic" ones in the receivers, bars and newsstands.
The Ricarica+ of TIM is available in different denominations, but those ended up under the eye of AGCOM are 5 and 10 euros. Ricarica 5+ and Ricarica 10+ cost 5 and 10 euros, but deliver traffic for 4 and 9 euros. The remaining euro is used to activate a promotion that allows you to have unlimited calls and Internet for 24 hours.
Vodafone's Giga Ricarica is always available for 5 and 10 euro top-up cuts. Again, the traffic disbursed is €4 and €9 respectively, with the remaining euro being used to activate a promotion that allows you to use an extra 3GB of traffic within a month.
Ricarica Special 5 and Ricarica Special 10, on the other hand, are Wind's premium recharges. The credit that is disbursed is 4 and 9 euros, with the remaining euro being used to activate a mandatory promotion that offers unlimited internet and calls for 24 hours.
The intervention of AGCOM
According to the Communications Authority, telephone operators did not have the right to replace standard top-ups with special ones, especially at the retailers most used by a segment of the population that does not know how to use applications and websites. Moreover, the incriminated tariffs are those most used by users, especially by those who have activated in recent years a monthly subscription to have calls, SMS and data traffic.
In the AGCOM document we read "It should be noted that the unavailability of these standard top-up rates (from 5 and 10 euros) objectively introduces an element of discrimination between the customer segment with lower spending capacity, which typically chooses lower top-up rates, and the customer segments that are oriented, however, for higher rates, also taking into account the fact that the existing multiplicity of available rates does not necessarily translate into a wide freedom of choice by all consumers, given that for some the choice remains forced towards less expensive rates.
In other words, for the segments with lower spending capacity, the constraints determined by the budget constraint may a priori limit access to the highest denominations (which would instead be the only denominations to purchase in order to avoid recourse to the Giga Ricarica offer). This is proven both by statistical studies (also reported in the fact-finding survey cited in the introduction) and by empirical evidence, according to which the typical clientele of low-amount top-ups - young people, students or those not employed and the elderly - avail themselves of this cut mainly because of limited economic availability."
According to the Authority, in addition to a problem of an economic nature, there has also been a lack of transparency on the part of telephone operators. "The elimination of top-up charges of 5 and 10 euros and the introduction of the "Giga Ricarica"/"Ricarica+"/"Ricarica Special" offers of the same amount presents profiles of little transparency even in terms of customer awareness of the purchase made. L’utente che esegue una ricarica può accorgersi dell’attivazione dell’offerta solo successivamente all’attivazione della stessa, dalla visione dello scontrino emesso o al ricevimento dello SMS di conferma, quando ormai il pregiudizio si è già concretizzato."
Per questi motivi l’AGCOM ha diffidato gli operatori telefonici nel continuare a commercializzare le ricariche speciali: entro 30 giorni devono stoppare questa pratica e ristabilire la situazione precedente. Ora toccherà agli operatori trovare una soluzione che soddisfi tutti.
A partire da gennaio 2020 Vodafone reintrodurrà i tagli di ricarica da 5€ e da 10€ con solo traffico telefonico presso i tabaccai, bar, edicole e ricevitorie. Si ricorda che:
- i tagli di ricarica da 5€ e da 10€ con solo traffico telefonico sono sempre rimasti disponibili presso i negozi Vodafone, online e attraverso l’app;
- quando è stato lanciato il prodotto Giga Ricarica sono stati inviati SMS informativi a tutti i clienti che avevano effettuato una ricarica nei canali in cui è stato introdotto;
- contestualmente comunichiamo mensilmente con i canali di vendita in modo che le informazioni sul prodotto siano sempre disponibili