The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has, together with other European consumer authorities, called on Volkswagen to accommodate swiftly owners of diesel cars with modified software. In the Netherlands, far from all owners of such cars have been informed clearly about:
Volkswagen must further guarantee that the repair of the car does not affect the overall performance of the car.
The European consumer authorities argue that Volkswagen has not sufficiently fulfilled the promises that it previously made surrounding the repair of cars. For example, Volkswagen has promised that all cars would be repaired by the fall of 2017. They have therefore called on Volkswagen through a so-called ‘common position’ to take action. Within one month, Volkswagen has to indicate how it will solve these consumer problems in various European countries. After this, enforcement actions of the member states, including the Netherlands, may follow.
In September 2015, Volkswagen informed that 170,000 cars were sold in the Netherlands in which software was installed that was able to manipulate the emission tests. Therefore, the software in all of these cars must be adapted. Volkswagen should inform owners properly and clearly, so that they are able to make a well-informed decision on whether or not they will let their car be repaired. In most EU countries, including the Netherlands, far from all harmed consumers have been approached, and thus not all cars have been repaired. Volkswagen now has one month to let European authorities know that they will provide clarity to harmed consumers, and how Volkswagen will do so.
In late-2016, ACM has also launched an investigation into Volkswagen in connection with possible violations of consumer protection rules. ACM expects to publish the results of this investigation later this year.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has cleared the merger between the Academic Medical Center (AMC) and the VU University Medical Center (VUmc) in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. No significant consequences for the competition were found.
ACM has concluded that sufficient options remain for patients and health insurers after the merger. This applies to both basic care and complex hospital care. In high-complexity care, ACM has observed that both hospitals offer unique care that is not offered elsewhere. The merger will not change this. For the remaining high-complexity care, AMC and VUmc compete with other hospitals in the region. Based on an extensive investigation, ACM has found that these hospitals combined have a limited market share (between 30 and 40 percent) on this market, and that other hospitals in the region form alternatives to both insurers and patients.
In early-2017, ACM has launched an investigation into the consequences for the competition of this merger, especially concerning the area of high-complexity care or complex hospital care. Complex hospital care includes complex surgical procedures, patients with multiple conditions, or treatments that require highly specialized equipment. ACM has investigated whether sufficient alternatives remain for patients and insurers after the merger. ACM has concluded that patients will have sufficient options after the merger as well. There are other hospitals that offer complex hospital care in the region too, such as the Onze Lieve Vrouwen Gasthuis (OLVG) and the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital (AVL).
ACM concluded that sufficient alternatives remain for health insurers to procure care after the merger. Health insurers have sufficient alternatives if they would want to procure care selectively, but they have only applied this in a limited number of cases so far.
During the merger investigation, ACM did, however, receive indications that these hospitals could use their position on unique care to influence the negotiations with health insurers to their own benefit on basic care and high-complexity care, which are segments that do allow for competition. For example, this segment of unique care includes difficult, expensive, or uncommon treatments for patients. On the market for highly-specialized care, competition is limited to non-existent. These indications stand apart from the consequences of the merger between AMC and VUmc. ACM and the Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa) together will conduct a preliminary study into this anticompetitive risk based on other instruments within their legal authority.
Chris Fonteijn, Chairman of the Board of ACM, explains: “If anticompetitive risks do indeed exist, then this could have a negative effect on tariffs and options for patients. Health insurers must be able to procure care selectively and at reasonable tariffs. Together with the NZa, ACM wants to safeguard sufficient options for patients and insurers.”
Both ACM and the NZa have regulatory authority in the health care sector. ACM monitors whether health care institutions do not become too dominant when they merge. This could harm patients and insured. The NZa assesses the procedure surrounding the merger’s formation.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has cleared the merger between two physical-rehabilitation centers in the western Dutch province of Zuid-Holland: Sophia Revalidatie in the city of the Hague and Rijnlands Revalidatie Centrum in the city of Leiden. ACM has established that the options of patients and health insurers will not significantly change as a result of the merger.
ACM’s investigation has revealed that there is a limited overlap in the catchment areas of Sophia and Rijnlands. Based on where they live, patients will either go to Sophia or to Rijnlands. It is only in exceptional cases that patients go to a rehabilitation center further away. For example, if the center in their region does not offer a highly specialist treatment. In the current situation, there is thus already little competitive pressure between both centers. The merger will barely effect this.
Patient organizations are positive about the merger. Insurers conclude that not much will change in the need to procure care from both centers. This has been the case before the merger, and it will continue to stay this way. Health insurers say that the centers barely compete with each other.
Sophia and Rijnlands both offer specialist medical rehabilitation care. This is care for patients who become physically impaired due to an illness, an accident, or a congenital disease. This concerns complex care that can be offered in the center or on an outpatient basis to adults and children.
Case number: 17.0432.22
Stichting Sophia en Stichting Rijnlands Revalidatie Centrum
Dutch postal operator PostNL is allowed to raise the tariffs of the basic set of postal services for 2018. This set is also called the universal service obligation (USO). The additional headroom is 7.1 percent. This has been determined by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) on the basis of statutory rules. The aim of these rules is that consumers and businesses do not pay too much for mail delivery services, while PostNL is able to provide the basic set of postal services in a cost-effective way. Henk Don, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “We must take the increasingly empty collection boxes into account. The fewer letters PostNL delivers, the more the tariffs are allowed to rise.”&
Now that ACM has determined the tariff headroom, PostNL is able to submit a tariff proposal for 2018. ACM then assesses whether these tariffs comply with the statutory requirements. Later this year, PostNL will determine the tariffs for, for example, stamps and registered mail in 2018.
The law imposes rules on PostNL because it is the only postal operator in the Netherlands that is responsible for the basic set of postal services (the universal service obligation). This means that PostNL is obliged to collect and deliver individual letters and parcels five days a week in the whole country. With the turnover from individual letters and parcels, PostNL is only allowed to recoup the costs plus a reasonable level of return. ACM assesses this every year when determining the tariff headroom and the tariffs. In July 2017, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs published a study about the Dutch postal market. This also contains scenarios for the future structure of the basic set of postal services.
Over the past few years, PostNL has consistently generated profits on the basic set. In 2016, the positive return amounted to 6.3 percent. This is below the maximum return that PostNL is allowed to generate according to the legislature.
ACM recently published the Postal and Parcel Markets Scan. This has revealed that consumers and business senders send less next-day delivery mail: less mail of consumers via the basic set and less mail of business senders. In 2016, business senders sent 2.6 billion letters, magazines, and other mailpieces, which is 10 percent less than in 2015. In the same year, consumers sent 196 million mailpieces such as letters and cards, an average of 12 per person. In 2015, that average was still 13. PostNL raised the price of stamps in 2016 from EUR 0.73 to EUR 0.78. The turnover from mail delivery declined, but was compensated by the increase in turnover from parcel delivery. The parcel delivery market grows from year to year, which is especially caused by the surge in online shopping.
As instructed by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), Dutch drugstore chain Kruidvat adjusted the conditions of the coupon deal for a three-day mystery trip. During the promotional period, consumers can purchase a coupon at Kruidvat, which can be redeemed at tour operator Flywise for a mystery trip. At first, Kruidvat did not offer a cooling-off period (right of withdrawal) of 14 days, which is statutorily required, on coupons sold online. Kruidvat has already adjusted this. In addition, ACM reprimanded Flywise, the company that organizes these trips. It has made improvements to its operations, which means that Flywise currently complies with the rules that are apply to the sale of package holidays. Both companies fully cooperate with ACM in the implementation of these adjustments.
Kruidvat recently launched a promotional deal involving travel coupons for three-day mystery trips within Europe. When purchasing a coupon for EUR 89.99 per person, the consumer has no idea what the travel dates are or what the airport of departure is. This information only becomes clear when the coupon is redeemed at the tour operator collaborating with Kruidvat, which, in this case, is Flywise.
Based on availability, Flywise selects the destination within Europe to which the consumer can travel. This deal generated a considerable amount of interest. ACM received indications from media reports about various issues that were possibly not right. ACM subsequently found that consumers unjustfully were not given the opportunity to cancel the purchase of the coupons if they had bought them online in Kruidvat’s online store. In addition, the tour operator’s warranty scheme and its general terms and conditions did not meet statutory requirements.
Eventually, this has led to the following adjustments:
Evert Jan Hummelen, acting Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Even if mystery trips are involved, tour operators still have to comply with the law. That means that the conditions of the deal must be clear, and that the tour operator ensures that a sound warranty scheme is in place. We wish to prevent consumers from being unpleasantly surprised. By taking action now, we also create clarity about possible similar interventions in the future. ”
ACM enforces compliance with consumer protection rules. Over the next few months, ACM will keep a closer watch on whether or not tour operators comply with the rules, and, more precisely, with the requirement to have taken care of at least the warranty scheme for bankruptcies. New rules for package holidays are expected to come into effect on July 1, 2018. After that date, more providers of package holidays are expected to have such a warranty scheme for bankruptcies than currently is the case. That is why ACM already points out the existing rules to providers of package holidays.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has conducted a market study into online video platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and Dumpert. ACM did not find any indications for anticompetitive risks on the online advertising market and the online video market. However, ACM did discover unfair general terms and conditions. ACM will expand the current international approach to this topic. ACM has conducted this study to gain more insight into the functioning of, the competitors in, and the dynamics of this segment of the online economy.
Most platforms for videos generate their revenues from online advertisements. A large part of this market study also deals with the capital flows surrounding video platforms:
ACM has conducted a preliminary study into the general terms and conditions that online video platforms use vis-à-vis consumers. This study has confirmed that some conditions are unfair, for example, certain conditions deny consumers certain rights. These types of conditions are not unique to video platforms. They can be found in many online services. ACM will expand the investigation into such conditions, together with its European counterparts.
The market for online video services is evolving at breathtaking speed. The new ways in which consumers use online media have turned the media landscape upside down. As a result, the revenues of traditional media companies have come under pressure, for example, because they are selling fewer advertisements and subscriptions.
There are large and small companies on the market for online video streaming services. In addition, there is a constant stream of new initiatives or new market participants such as Telegraaf VNDG or Appie Today. The market is growing fast, and is very dynamic. ACM has conducted this market study in order to fully understand the market, and to identify any potential risks.
Because of the diversity of platforms, the different options to advertise and the rapid developments in the market, ACM currently does not see any anticompetitive problems with online video platforms. However, in such a turbulent market, there is always the chance that anticompetitive problems will emerge. Therefore, ACM will continue to keep a critical eye on the market for online video streaming over the next couple of years.
Case number: 16.1275.29
The Netherlands has a growing delivery market: the parcel market is growing faster than the mail market is declining. In 2016, the total turnover from mail and parcel deliveries increased to nearly EUR 3 billion, the highest level since 2013. Most operators that transport mail, deliver parcels too. Postal operators and parcel couriers compete with each other for the favor of business senders, and make investments to improve their service. This has been revealed by the 2016 Postal and Parcel Markets Scan, which the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has published today. This scan has been compiled using data from 28 postal operators and 6 parcel couriers in the Netherlands.
In 2016, business senders sent 2.6 billion letters, magazines, and business mail, which is 10 percent less than in 2015. The turnover in this category amounted to EUR 1.18 billion in 2016, which is 8 percent lower than in 2015. Consumers sent 196 million mailpieces such as letters and cards in 2016, an average of 12 mailpieces per person. In 2015, that average was still 13. PostNL raised the price of stamps in 2016 from EUR 0.73 to EUR 0.78.
Businesses and consumers sent a total of 350 million parcels in 2016. Based on that volume, parcel couriers realized a turnover of EUR 1.8 billion. The number of parcels in 2016 is 12 percent higher than the number in 2015, which is an increase in turnover of 8 percent. Within the Netherlands, most parcels were sent by businesses to consumers: 152 million mailpieces. Businesses sent nearly 70 million parcels to each other. Consumers sent 7 million parcels.
In 2016, postal operators invested in sorting machines, better software, and electric bicycles. By using machines to count, sort, and weigh mail, they are able to process mail faster and more accurately. With a special app for mail carriers, several postal operators check if their delivery operations run smoothly. By doing so, they are able to give their customers more certainty about the quality of the delivery of their mail. If a customer has a complaint, the postal company will also be able to use the data from the app to look whether something has indeed gone wrong. Several postal operators have introduced services and new products such as bicycle courier services, letterbox packages, and personalized Christmas stamps.
In 2016, regional postal operators also invested in the expansion of their own delivery networks. Wherever they do not deliver themselves, they are able to use the network of PostNL. Regional postal operators deliver over 60 percent of their own business senders’ mail themselves. They offer less than 40 percent via PostNL’s network. This share is lower than in 2015.
Parcel couriers, too, made investments in 2016: in buildings, transport vehicles, and software. They are making their service more and more flexible. This can be particularly observed in the final stretch of the parcel delivery process, the ‘last mile’. For instance, automatic parcel machines are not only used to deliver parcels and to set them up for return shipments, but also to improve the internal logistics of large companies and universities. In order to decrease the number of rides in city centers, some market participants combine the delivery of parcels and retail inventories with collecting returns and with non-mail related services, such as waste paper collection.
Competition on the postal market is increasing. Overall, the market share of PostNL has declined slightly. The market share of regional operators in particular is increasing. Consumers are only able to choose next-day delivery for their letters, virtually exclusively from PostNL. There is basically no competition here. Business senders, however, can also choose 48-hour and 72-hour delivery for their mail. For these options, they can also choose from different operators such as regional operators. Business senders benefit from competition. Wherever there is competition, the tariffs increase less quickly. Next-day delivery for business mail has fewer competitors than slower mail. In 2016, PostNL’s competitors delivered 10 to 15 percent of the mail that arrives after one working day. Next-day delivery is increasingly becoming more expensive. However, the price increase of 2016 is less than in previous years. There is more competition in slower mail. 35 to 40 percent of this mail is delivered by other operators than PostNL. In the last few years, the average price of this mail has remained stable.
In parcel deliveries, PostNL has a market share of about 60 percent, which makes it the largest operator for domestic parcel delivery. The average turnover per domestic parcel slightly declined in 2016. In cross-border delivery of parcels, there are multiple operators that are more or less similar in size with market shares of approximately 25 percent. In the parcel market, several large clients are responsible for a large number of parcels: on average, a parcel courier’s top 5 customers generate 20 percent of its turnover. On average, big customers pay less per parcel than smaller customers. In 2016, the relatively smaller customers in particular were the ones switching parcel couriers.
Midac Nederland, an importer of batteries for forklift trucks, and Era, the parent company of the now defunct importer Faam Benelux, have been fined for concluding illegal price-fixing agreements. On July 5, 2017, ACM disclosed the names of five companies that had admitted their involvement in this violation. Their fines have been lowered. Midac Nederland and Era did not admit their involvement in the violation. Their fines are therefore not lowered: in total, they amount to over EUR 1 million. The fine on all seven companies and trade association BMWT (Association of Manufacturers and Traders of Heavy Machinery, Warehouse Equipment, Road Construction Equipment and Transportation Vehicles) totals almost EUR 17.5 million.
Importers of batteries for forklift trucks, among other vehicles, and their trade association BMWT had agreed on using a so-called ‘lead surcharge.’ The objective of this ‘lead surcharge’ was to incorporate in a structural manner the widely fluctuating price of lead into the retail price of batteries. In addition, they also shared competition-sensitive information among each other. These actions resulted in a restriction of competition.
These agreements were in place between 2004 and 2013. Midac Nederland had been involved in these agreements since January 1, 2013.
Instructed by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to do so, consumer electronics retailer MediaMarkt has adjusted the way they sell their so-called Grand Prix holidays. MediaMarkt now makes clear who organizes these holidays, and displays their prices in a more transparent manner. In addition, the company that organizes these holidays now also offers the statutorily mandated warranty scheme for package tours. Finally, the credit card fees for these holidays have been set at €0, which is below the current maximum. Consumers who paid too much in credit card fees have been reimbursed.
Several weeks ago, ACM received indications alleging that ‘MediaMarkt Club’ did not properly comply with consumer protection regulations when selling the Grand Prix package holidays. ACM subsequently assessed the situation. As a result, MediaMarkt made several adjustments:
Bernadette van Buchem, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “The rules that protect consumers are not in place for nothing. It is important that everyone complies with these rules when selling travel products. With this swift intervention, we have been able to prevent further harm to consumers.”
ACM enforces compliance with consumer protection rules. Over the next couple of months, ACM will closely monitor whether MediaMarkt and other providers of package holidays comply with the rules, and, more precisely, with the requirement to have taken care of at least the warranty scheme for bankruptcies. New rules for package holidays are expected to come into effect on July 1, 2018. After that date, more providers of package holidays are expected to have such a warranty scheme for bankruptcies than currently is the case. That is why ACM already points out the existing rules to providers of package holidays.
Package holidays consist of different elements:
When consumers take out the entire package or a part thereof, it is usually considered a package holiday, to which specific rules apply. For example, a warranty scheme must be in place for paying back the costs of the holiday and repatriation of travelers if the tour operator goes bankrupt.
Dutch consumers keep on using their mobile phones more and more for calling and surfing the Internet. Mobile data consumption continues to increase. In 2016, total data consumption was 185 billion MB, which is an increase of 63% compared with 2015, and an increase of over 500% compared with 2013. The number of text messages continues to decline.
This has been revealed by the 2016 Telecom Monitor, which the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) published today.
Other notable trends with regard to internet, telephony, and television over the past four years are:
More and larger packages have become staples in the telecom sector. Consumers increasingly take out a combination of services such as broadband access, television services, fixed telephony, and mobile telephony in a single package. At the end of 2016, the number of households that took out a package has risen to almost 6.5 million. In 2016, the number of households that took out a four-in-one package rose by 190,000 connections (31%) to almost 800,000. The number of three-in-one packages in 2016 rose by 245,000 connections (6%). The number of two-in-one packages decreased by 187,000 connections (-12%).
Fast internet connections have become more and more common for consumers. In 2016, one in three consumer connections had superfast speeds of over 100 Mbps. In late-2013, that percentage was just 9%. The percentage of slow connections (lower than 10 Mbps) dropped in 2016 to 2% of all connections. In 2013, that percentage was still 31%.
In the mobile market, the number of connections used for devices that communicate over the Internet is increasing tremendously. This concerns SIM cards with 097 numbers for objects such as trash cans, alarm systems, and smoke detectors. The number of SIM cards for devices that communicate over the Internet rose from over 1.2 million in late-2013 to almost 4 million in late-2016.
In 2016, the number of mobile bundles (plans with data and voice) increased significantly, from 12.64 million in 2015 to 13.83 million in 2016 (+ 9%). In the postpaid and prepaid segments, the mobile operators without a network of their own in particular experienced growth in 2016. The number of postpaid and prepaid connections among these market participants increased by 19% in 2016. They purchase access from one of the four major market participants that have a network of their own. Among these mobile operators that have a network of their own, the average growth rate was markedly lower: 2.5%.
Since cable companies UPC and Ziggo merged in 2014, the market shares in the consumer market for internet have remained stable. Over the past three years, both KPN and Ziggo had stable and similar market shares of approximately 40-45%. Next to these two competitors, Tele2 was able to maintain a small yet stable market share of 0-5% over the same period. The other market participants had a combined market share of approximately 5-10%. KPN must give other market participants access to its fixed network. This fixed network is regulated. The market share of the market participants that take advantage thereof is approximately 5-10%.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has issued a warning against the commercial practices of online store www.123soatest.nl. The company 123concepts B.V., with its registered office in the city of Alphen aan den Rijn, sells self-test kits for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs). ACM has received police reports as well as indications from consumers through its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer, and ACM has carried out investigations of its own. ACM has sufficient reason to believe that 123concepts did not deliver the ordered and paid kits, and has thus violated consumer protection rules.
In order to prevent further harm to consumers, ACM has decided to issue this warning about the online store. ACM will also take further action against this online store to stop its practices.
Bernadette van Buchem, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: ‘Since the online store fails to deliver the ordered products, buyers are not only harmed financially, but their health is also at risk since they are unable to test for an STD or STI quickly.’
According to the reports, consumers have ordered and paid for these self-test kits, but they have never received any. These kits from 123soatest.nl often cost approximately EUR 100. In addition, the company does not refund consumers within the statutory time limit of 14 days if consumers cancel their orders. The online store cannot be reached by phone or by email. Since this is such a delicate subject, consumers that have been affected are not always willing to report these practices. It would be a shame if ACM were unable to take any action because of a lack of complaints. That is why ACM welcomes any reports about these kinds of products.
Consumers can find information about their rights regarding online purchases on the website of ConsuWijzer, such as practical advice and tools, for example, sample letters in case the product is not delivered or if the money was not reimbursed. The online Shopscan (in Dutch) on ConsuWijzer is a tool to assess whether or not online shops are trustworthy.
The tariffs that telecom provider KPN used in the tender process for business fiber-optic connections in two western Dutch municipalities (Westland and Midden-Delfland) were not in violation of the Dutch Competition Act. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has come to this conclusion after an investigation into this matter. ACM has therefore turned down the request for enforcement filed by CBizz, one of KPN’s rivals. Like KPN, CBizz is active as a provider of business fiber-optic connections.
In tender processes for business fiber-optic connections, KPN is allowed to set its own tariffs and conditions in its bids. Since September 2015, the tariffs for business fiber-optic services are no longer unregulated. CBizz had asked ACM to take action against KPN. CBizz was of the opinion that KPN’s tariffs violated the Dutch Competition Act. That is not the case here.
Businesses and organizations will continue to be able to choose from multiple postal companies for the delivery of their 24-hour bulk mail. That is because Dutch postal company PostNL must continue to grant access to its sorting and delivery network to other postal companies. Thanks to that, regional postal companies that deliver mail only in parts of the country will be able to offer nation-wide 24-hour delivery of bulk mail, too.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has come to this conclusion in its market analysis decision regarding the 24-hour delivery of business mail. With this decision, ACM carries out the legislature’s wish to safeguard access to PostNL’s network for 24-hour bulk mail delivery from August 1 onwards. On that day, Section 9 of the Dutch Postal Act, which regulates this access, will expire.
Several postal companies only deliver 24-hour mail in certain parts of the country. Due to its dominant position, PostNL continues to be required to offer delivering their mail in those regions where the other postal companies do not have any mail carriers. Despite the shrinking market, there should be room over the next couple of years for multiple postal companies to compete. As a result, senders of business mail will continue to be able to choose between different postal companies. This will ensure better service at lower prices.
In its market analysis decision, ACM sets out what conditions PostNL may apply for delivering this mail. These include, among other conditions, the times by which other postal companies should deliver their mail to PostNL, and the tariffs that PostNL is allowed to charge them. The tariffs have been set in such a way that PostNL is not only able to recoup its costs, but is also able to earn a reasonable return. When setting these tariffs, ACM expressly takes into account the decreasing mail volumes.
On several occasions, ACM asked market participants for comments on the analysis and the proposed obligations. Following those comments, the decision has been modified on a number of points, so that it deals with the identified competition issues in an even more targeted way.
Case number: 14.0296.36
Unsolicited telemarketing calls in which you are offered subscriptions that are then nearly impossible to get rid of: this is the current number one annoyance among consumers. This has been revealed by the biannual figures of ConsuWijzer, the consumer information portal operated by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). These subscriptions include subscriptions to discount websites, hotel deals, prize contests, and other services.
ConsuWijzer has been receiving noticeably a lot of indications about aggressive telemarketing calls regarding subscriptions. These indications reveal that consumers are insufficiently aware of what their rights are. They let themselves be pressured into paying for such unsolicited subscriptions, while never having agreed to such offers in writing.
Bernadette van Buchem, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “The fact that these kinds of telemarketers target vulnerable consumers such as seniors is quite dishonorable. That is why it is important that consumers know their rights and know what they can do. We are calling on consumers to pay for offers only if they have agreed to them in writing. That is the only way to render these kinds of practices no longer appealing to businesses.”
Over the next few months, ACM will keep a close watch on the compliance with the written-consent requirement and the rules for telemarketing. ACM will not hesitate to take enforcement action against businesses that do not comply with the rules.
If a business sells subscriptions over the phone, it must send a paper copy of the offer first. An agreement is only valid if you have agreed to the offer in writing. To agree in writing means that you sign the offer, or that you send an email or letter stating that you agree to it. Without a signature, the agreement is invalid, and you do not have to pay anything. This is the so-called ‘written-consent requirement’.
Similarly, do not pay if you receive a debt collection letter or if a debt collection agency threatens you with a summons or high costs. Are you dealing with these kinds of practices? Go to ConsuWijzer (in Dutch) for more information.
Numerous consumers know the way to ACM’s consumer information portal Consuwijzer.nl. It was visited 1.4 million times over the past six months. The sample letters on Consuwijzer.nl, which has over a hundred of them, were viewed nearly 210,000 times. ConsuWijzer’s customer advisers answered 28,000 calls and emails from consumers. In addition, ConsuWijzer’s Facebook posts reached 1.1 million unique visitors. ConsuWijzer currently has 42,000 followers on Facebook.
Pages that were visited the most:
Indications from consumers help ACM identify what businesses violate regulations, so that it can take action against them, for example, by issuing a warning or imposing a fine. Such fines can be as high as EUR 900,000 per violation. In the first six months of 2017, ACM successfully took action against dozens of businesses. Below is a selection of the results:
For now, there is sufficient competition on the telecom market, despite the trend of bundling telecom products in all-in-one packages. That has been the conclusion of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) after its market study into the impact of all-in-one packages on the telecom market: fixed telephony, mobile telephony, broadband access, and television services. Providers also add exclusive content to packages, such as free movies, series, or sports broadcasts. This can be attractive to consumers. As of yet, this does not create any anticompetitive risks.
ACM has seen that consumers increasingly opt for multiple telecom products in a single package. Such packages combine television services, broadband access, fixed telephony, and mobile telephony, or combinations thereof. By offering competitive deals, telecom providers are able to satisfy the need among consumers for ‘savings, simplicity, and convenience’. Initially, television services, broadband access and fixed telephony were bundled into packages. In recent years, mobile services have also been added. This has led to the rise of four-in-one packages. In addition, providers increasingly add exclusive channels, free movies, series or sports broadcasts to these packages. That is one of the ways to attract additional customers, because they are unable to get these shows from other providers. Think of HBO series that are only available from Ziggo. Or KPN that offers series via its own channel ‘KPN presenteert’ (‘KPN presents’).
If consumers choose packages, they are less likely to switch. In part, this is because ‘separate’ plans combined are often more expensive or offer less than an all-in-one package. However, comparing various offers from other providers becomes increasingly difficult: voice minutes, download speed, TV plan, data plan. No two offers are exactly the same.
If providers add more and more exclusive content to plans, it can also restrict switching. Certain series or shows will then only be available from a single provider. Plans can also become more expensive because the costs for these additional shows are passed on to consumers.
Two major competitors operate both a fixed network and a mobile network: KPN and Vodafone/Ziggo. Other competitors with just a mobile network, such as Tele2 or T-Mobile, have to buy access from KPN in order to be able to offer their customers, too, a complete package of fixed telephony, mobile telephony, broadband access, and television services. They often have smaller customer bases, and are unable to spread their risks over such bases. This could have negative effects on smaller providers. The risk is that they will eventually disappear from the telecom market.
‘Online consumers’ is one of ACM’s main priorities. That is why ACM has conducted this study to identify the risks. For now, the benefits for consumers of bundling services seem to outweigh the drawbacks. ACM will continue to ensure that comparing plans does not become harder, and switching does not become unnecessarily complicated. ACM believes that sufficient options should continue to exist, and that more options should be available than just expensive TV plans.
For healthy competition, it is important that smaller telecom providers with competitive prices also exist. We are currently conducting another Telecommunication Market Analysis. It may result in measures that promote competition between larger and smaller telecom providers. The benefits that consumers enjoy of having more providers such as competitive prices, sufficient options, and additional services cannot go away because smaller telecom providers leave the market.
Distribution system operator Cogas will continue under the name Coteq Netbeheer from September 1, 2017. By doing so, the system operator will set itself apart from affiliated commercial companies. In the coming months, the system operator will implement its new name and new logo. With those moves, it will fulfill its commitments to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM).
The commercial companies that are affiliated with Coteq Netbeheer will no longer be able to benefit improperly from the brand recognition of the system operator. It will now be clear to buyers who they are dealing with: the system operator that performs statutory tasks such as the transmission of electricity and natural gas, or a commercial company that performs related activities. This was insufficiently clear in the past, which caused consumers to be at a disadvantage.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) is warning consumers who receive or have received personal invitations sent by regular mail to social meetings or theme parties nearby that turn out to be product demonstrations. Such meetings or parties often also hold out the prospect of prizes or presents to potential attendees. However, the invitations do not explain that these are actually product demonstrations. At various such product demonstrations, consumers are not reminded of their rights. Such situations can lead to unpleasant surprises.
At these types of product demonstrations, consumers are often pressured to purchase expensive products (usually health care products). Also, they are supposedly able to win trips. But, in the end, it turns out they still need to pay for these trips. Consumers are not accurately informed or even not informed at all about any cooling-off period or about their right to return products within 14 days.
Bernadette van Buchem, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “People assume they are going to a fun, social meeting. Once there, they are pressured to purchase all kinds of expensive products without any cooling-off period. As consumers are not aware of their rights, we are issuing this warning about these types of product demonstrations. And we remind them of their rights.”
ACM finds it important that consumers know what their rights are when making purchases at product demonstrations:
ACM has received reports from consumers about being offered expensive health care products at social meetings such as transdermal therapeutic patches or therapeutic pillows. If consumers later wish to return the product, sellers tell them there is no cooling-off period for that particular product. One oft-heard argument is that these are personal hygiene products. However, that is not allowed. With regard to personal hygiene products, sellers must ensure that each product is sealed. Furthermore, they must clearly inform consumers in advance that, if they break the seal, the cooling-off period expires immediately. So long as the seal has not been removed, the cooling-off period is still in force. Cooling-off periods also apply to trips, particularly if the date of travel and destination are still unclear. Consumers can report their experiences to ConsuWijzer.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has found insufficient evidence that consumers are harmed by the changes to the conditions that Fox imposed last year on the broadcasting rights for live matches of the Eredivisie, which is the top division of the Dutch football league. That is why ACM has ceased its preliminary investigation. Cable company CAIW had asked ACM whether Fox violated the Dutch Competition Act with its changes.
Media and entertainment company Fox owns exclusive broadcasting rights for live matches of the Eredivisie. Fox commercially exploits the broadcasting rights via the joint venture Eredivisie Media and Marketing. Distributors such as CAIW, Ziggo, and KPN have no alternative to get live matches of the Eredivisie from another provider. Last year, Fox changed the conditions for the broadcasting rights for a large number of distributors. Only Ziggo, whose contract expires in 2020, still has the old conditions. Changes to the conditions could have negative effects on consumers, but ACM currently does not have sufficient evidence for this. A further investigation by ACM is thus not necessary at this point.
The prices of the different plans with Eredivisie matches are varied and have mostly gone down. The live matches of the Eredivisie are one of the channels that distributors can include in their TV plans. When choosing a distributor, consumers mostly pay attention to the price of the entire plan and the download speed.
Case number: 16.0708.29
Fox Netwerk Group Inc., Eredivisie Media & Marketing C.V. en CAIW Holding B.V.
Talpa Holding is cleared to acquire media company Sanoma Image (which includes SBS). The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) does not foresee this acquisition harming the options for consumers and advertisers.
Talpa has several radio stations as well as a company that sells broadcasting time for advertisements (OMS). Currently, Talpa already owns 33 percent of shares in Sanoma Image.
Sanoma Image houses the Dutch television stations SBS6, Net5, Veronica, and SBS9. In addition, Sanoma Image sells broadcasting time for TV commercials, and offers online-marketing services.
The acquisition will have little effect on the media landscape in the Netherlands. The radio and television stations will continue to exist. ACM has conducted a further investigation into the advertising market.
After the acquisition, the sale of broadcasting time of radio ads and television ads will come under a single roof. ACM has assessed whether that situation would create anticompetitive risks on these markets. OMS has a strong position on the radio advertising market. ACM comes to the conclusion that OMS’s strong position on this market cannot be transferred to the radio and television advertising market on the SBS stations. This is mainly because competitor stations of Netherlands Public Broadcasting (NPO) and of commercial broadcaster RTL have a large reach.
ACM has additionally assessed whether Talpa’s position on the radio advertising market becomes stronger because of its ability to offer advertisers combined radio and television advertising space. ACM has established that Talpa is not materially able to put its competitors at a disadvantage in this manner. Here too, ACM does not foresee any issues regarding the options for consumers and advertisers.
Case number: 17.0453.22
Talpa Holding N.V. en Sanoma Image B.V.