Paris, 2 February 2011
The Finance Act for 2011, dated 29 December 2010, altered the method used to calculate the value-added taxation (VAT) rate that is applied to electronic communications services - including access to television (e.g. via triple play bundles and certain mobile flat rates, etc.) - which, for some services, resulted in an increase in VAT.
Certain electronic communications service providers took this opportunity to increase their prices to varying degrees.
These price increases constitute changes to contractual terms which means that customers can cancel their contract, following certain procedures, while also keeping their phone number should they so desire.
In accordance with Article L.121-84 of the French Consumer Code, cancelling a contract for legal reasons includes instances where a vendor unilaterally alters the contractual terms governing the supply of a service, for instance by changing the price of the service.
As a result, and in accordance with the provisions of this article, a subscriber can, "as long as she has not expressly accepted the new terms, cancel her contract without incurring a penalty and without any right to compensation, within four months of the change to the terms of the agreement coming into effect".
Cancellation for legal reasons is compatible with number retention (i.e. number portability)
Articles L. 44 and D. 406-18 of the French Postal and electronic communications code (CPCE), stipulate consumers' right to keep their telephone number when switching operators, within a maximum ten days.
Subscribers must contact their new operator directly, in accordance with the one-step system in place: the new operator becomes the subscriber's sole contact for carrying out all of the necessary procedures with their previous operator. Subscribers must not contact their old operator directly to cancel the contract, as they run the risk of losing the ability to keep their phone number. It is the actual process of porting the number to the new operator that results in the cancellation of the old contract.
ARCEP therefore reminds operators that they must ensure that customers who cancel their contract through a portability request process, and who are authorised to cancel their contracts due to a refusal of the new pricing terms in accordance with Article 121-84 of the Consumer Code, are not charged a penalty when their contract is cancelled.
Should the old operator charge a penalty that the customer believes is not justified, it is recommended that - once their number has been ported - the customer send a letter by registered mail with proof of delivery to their old operator's customer service department, requesting reimbursement of the undue penalty charge and stipulating that, "the portability of [their phone number] that was performed on [the date when the number was actually ported] corresponds to a contract cancellation due to a refusal to accept the new pricing conditions, in accordance with Article L.121-84 of the Consumer Code".
Lastly, as concerns the fixed electronic communications services market, consumers are reminded that they are required to return any hardware (modem, set-top box, etc.) supplied by their old operator, in accordance with the terms of their contract. The Consumer Code stipulates that any security deposits must be reimbursed within 10 days of the return.