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OPTA: Consumer information concerning SIM locks is inadequate

The information provided to consumers about the use of SIM locks in mobile phones is inadequate. If a mobile phone contains a SIM lock, the relevant telecommunications companies and service providers must draw their customer’s attention to this. Customers also need to know why a SIM lock is used and how it can be removed. OPTA has stated this in a letter addressed to all mobile phone providers in the Netherlands.

Acting at the request of the European Commission, OPTA recently conducted a study into the use of SIM locks in mobile phones. A SIM lock is designed to secure a phone. Since many mobile operators subsidise their phones by giving them away or almost free of charge, in principle there are no objections to the use of a SIM lock. However, the European Commission believes that in this case customers need to be properly informed about this. In addition, the Commission says that after a certain period – once a customer has ‘paid off’ the subsidy on his phone – it must be possible to remove the SIM lock free of charge. However, there are providers who misuse SIM locks. They do so to prevent users of these phones from switching to their competitors. The European Commission is opposed to the restriction of competition in this way.

The study conducted by OPTA reveals that there is widespread use of SIM locks by Dutch mobile operators. It also reveals that the information provided to customers leaves a great deal to be desired. The mere mention on the packaging that a SIM lock is used (as Libertel does) or the sole reference to it in a form contained in a box which has already been purchased (KPN Telecom) is not the type of information meant by the European Commission. There are also service providers who state that a SIM lock cannot be removed, even after a specific period.

OPTA has asked the mobile operators to indicate what measures they will be taking to remedy the shortcomings that have been noted. If they fail to do so, OPTA will have the power to act. In addition, OPTA has notified the European Commission and the Consumentenbond [Consumer Association] of the findings of its study.