The French telecoms regulator Arcep has recommended that mobile phone contracts be shortened from the 24-month tie-ins commonly offered, to allow end users to shop around for better deals. In a public consultation document setting down 30 key recommendations to improve transparency and make the market more competitive, Arcep is calling on cellcos to be required to offer contracts of either twelve or six months. Two-year contracts, the legal maximum length allowed in the country since 2008, currently offer the most competitive tariff plans, it noted. However, Arcep is concerned that under existing rules customers are locked into long-term deals often to the detriment of competition and often in a way that makes it difficult for users to switch provider. In another of its recommendations, Arcep is calling on domestic operators to make it clear how much of their monthly rental fee is set aside to repay the cost of their handset and what proportion is actually set aside for calls and other services. The watchdog is also concerned that offers such as free handset upgrades and other loyalty bonuses, effectively penalise people who wish to keep their existing phone.
Earlier this year, the three main network operators – Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom – signed up to a charter designed to simplify end-user tariffs and allow customers to ‘unlock’ their phones free of charge to use a rival’s SIM card. The proposals currently being put forward by Arcep make no mention of pre-paid tariff plans – some of which include a valid period of as little as four days.