Consumers directly benefit from the oversight activities of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). In 2013, these benefits amounted to EUR 1.85 billion, which is EUR 300 per household. This was the main conclusion of ACM’s first annual report, which was released today. Chris Fonteijn, Chairman of the Board of ACM, adds: ‘The effect of our oversight not only leads to more opportunities and options for businesses and consumers, but it also brings financial benefits.’
Regulation in energy, telecom and transport sectors: what are the benefits to consumers?
In the energy, telecom, and transport sectors, ACM’s actions have led to lower tariffs, for example, with regard to the tariffs that network operators are allowed to charge for the transmission of electricity and natural gas, or by opening up the market of fixed telephony and internet access. Consumers and businesses benefited from ACM’s actions: with regard to energy, their benefits amounted to EUR 780 million, and with regard to telecom their benefits were EUR 360 million. In the transport market, the benefits resulting from ACM’s oversight activities in 2013 exceeded EUR 25 million because of the reduction of the pilotage tariffs and the tariffs of Amsterdam airport Schiphol.
Competition: what are the benefits to consumers?
In 2013, the benefits of ACM’s general competition oversight amounted to EUR 668 million. It prohibited three cartels, assessed planned mergers, and sat down with businesses, holding them accountable for their conduct. For example, ACM informed the Dutch Association of Insurers (VvV) that it did not see the need for introducing a mandatory flood insurance for all Dutch consumers, since 50 percent of the Dutch live in areas that are not at risk of flooding, but would have to pay, too.
Consumer protection: what are the benefits to consumers?
The benefits of ACM’s activities in consumer protection cannot always be expressed in monetary terms. It is hard to quantify the effects of recommendations on the website of consumer information portal ConsuWijzer with which consumers exercise their rights. It is therefore plausible that the impact of consumer protection activities is larger than what can be concluded from the outcome figure of EUR 7.1 million. An example of what is included in that figure is the compensation that consumers received for having called a fraudulent phone number.
Comprehensive approach to problems
Because of the merger of the Netherlands Consumer Authority, the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) and the Netherlands Independent Post and Telecommunication Authority (OPTA) into the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), a broad range of instruments can be used to deal with problems.
To prevent consumers from paying too much for their energy, ACM took several actions. For example, ACM approved certain investments aimed at increasing the options for importing electricity from Germany. In addition, the tariffs of the network operators, which do not compete with one another, were set at a lower level. Finally, an awareness campaign ‘If you snooze, you lose’ (Dutch name: ‘Niets doen kost je poen’) was launched in order to point out what options consumers have when thinking about switching. Using these various instruments, ACM wishes to have energy continue to remain affordable for consumers.
Markets in focus
In its first Annual Report, ACM also publishes figures about certain specific markets it regulates. What is striking is that the telecom market is an incredibly dynamic market at the moment. The battle for the consumer’s favor is intensifying, particularly with triple-play bundles.
ACM in figures
Through its consumer information website www.consuwijzer.nl , ACM received more than 72,000 questions and complaints. The top 3 sectors with the most questions and indications were (1) telecom, (2) energy, (3) electronics/domestic appliances. Telecom also topped the list of topics that businesses contacted ACM about, followed by competition and energy.
Through www.spamklacht.nl , ACM received more than 16,850 indications about spam. About 210 indications about data leaks were handled. ACM launched more than 100 investigations, of which more than 70 in related to consumer protection.
Together with the Annual Report, ACM has published its first ‘InSight’ (its Dutch name is ‘Het Signaal’). In this publication, ACM discusses social trends that are important to its oversight activities such as the trend towards fewer rules while the government stimulates businesses to make arrangements concerning public interests themselves. Think of promoting sustainable energy or animal-friendly production. ACM welcomes such initiatives, but also notes that, as a regulator, it is required to assess such initiatives for any anticompetitive risks. If other public interests are more important than competition-law interests, it might be better to create new rules and to lay them down in law or regulations.
Other topics discussed in ‘InSight’ include national and European debates regarding telecom, energy and transport issues. ACM explains in what way, in its opinion, several problems in these markets should be dealt with.