Spanish operators caught fixing tariffs

An investigation into cell phone tariffs has resulted in the Spanish Competition Commission (CNC) reporting the three major operators for plotting to raise their fees at the same time.

The CNC claims that Telefonica's Movistar, Orange and Vodafone all raised their call connection charges in March 2007 for a mobile call from €0.12 to €0.15 cents. The probe was triggered by the Spanish consumer watchdog OCU which alerted the CNC to what appeared to be collusion among the three leading operators. Insiders believe the operators took this action to compensate for a drop in revenues following new legislation that forced them to stop rounding mobile tariffs to the nearest minute.

The operators have 15 days to respond to the CNC's findings--with Orange already firmly denying that it had colluded with Movistar or Vodafone. Depending upon the outcome, the CNC has the powers to fine each operator up to 10 per cent of its annual revenue--although a penalty of this magnitude, if the findings are upheld, would appear very unlikely.

If true, then this accusation will be embarrassing for Telefonica which earlier this week complained about EU intervention over the plan to cut call termination rates. The company's head of international operations, Lopez Blanco, was reported as saying that he didn't think it was the right moment to open the debate in this sector.

For more on this story:
- go to AFP and Easy Bourse

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