BONN (dpa-AFX) - Germany's cell phone users will have to pay less in future if their data connection is much worse than contractually agreed. The Federal Network Agency published a proposal on Wednesday in Bonn on the so-called reduction right. Although this has been enshrined in law since 2021, it has not yet been usable. Only now is the regulator putting a definition on the table as to when exactly the legal claim for poor performance applies. Market participants can now comment, after which the specifications will be determined.

"We want to have the mobile network reduction right in place by the end of the year - that is the goal," said Federal Network Agency Klaus Müller to dpa. "With the planned measurement tool, consumers will be able to check and prove whether the quality in mobile communications corresponds to what was agreed in the contract."

Future right to a reduction

Telecommunications providers must specify an estimated maximum value for data transmission in their mobile phone tariffs. If a cell phone user in a rural area repeatedly receives less than 10 percent of this, they will in future be entitled to a reduction - they will have to clarify the exact amount with their provider and, if necessary, go to court. In areas with a medium population density, the threshold is 15 percent and in areas with a high population density it is 25 percent. The percentages may seem low, but they could still help some consumers: If their tariff includes an estimated maximum download value of 300 megabits per second, for example, 30 Mbit should still be achieved in rural areas - which is sufficient for most applications.

However, cell phone users have to invest time in order to get the legal claim certified in black and white: They must take a total of 30 measurements on five different days. This threshold must be reached at least once on three days - if it is not, then the consumer is entitled to a price reduction or extraordinary termination, in which case the authorities consider that there are "significant, continuous or regularly recurring deviations in speed between the actual performance of the Internet access services and the performance stated by the provider", which justify the claim under telecommunications law.

Criticism from the telecommunications industry

Telecommunications providers reacted with a huff to the authority's plans. Frederic Ufer, Managing Director of the industry association VATM, explained that improvements were urgently needed on some points. "We consider the total number of 30 measurements to be too low, as the fluctuating utilization of mobile networks must be recorded as well as weather influences and other local conditions."

According to the Federal Network Agency, the measurements should take place outdoors - the user should be informed of this in the app. Cheating is possible here without the app recognizing this precisely - so a consumer could go into the basement where reception is particularly poor. "Recording the location during the measurement is still far too imprecise," complains industry representative Ufer. "Precisely positioning the mobile device at the time of the measurement and checking whether the measurement is taking place outdoors is not a technical problem and should therefore also be possible to display in the measurement tool." A "legally secure measurement procedure" is equally important for mobile network providers and customers, said Ufer and asked the Federal Network Agency for a "balanced solution".

A toothless tiger?

While industry representatives shook their heads, consumer advocates were at least as uneasy - albeit for completely different reasons: They thought the requirements were far too lax. "The fact that only every tenth measurement has to be above the already low threshold is far too little," said Felix Flosbach from the NRW consumer advice center. All in all, this is "a toothless tiger".

In his opinion, price-conscious consumers in particular are being left out in the cold: Quite cheap tariffs often included maximum speeds of 25 to 50 megabits per second. "If, as planned, providers only have to deliver 10 percent of this in some cases, almost nothing will reach the end customer and there are no legal options beyond that."

Right to reduction in the fixed network

In the fixed network, the right to reduction is already activated via breitbandmessung.de, but it has so far only been used to a limited extent. It is unclear why the number of completed measurements in this area is low. Consumer advocates also see a discrepancy between contractually guaranteed performance and reality in the fixed network, but consider the measurement specifications to be restrictive for users. For example, a LAN cable must be used for the 30 landline tests, which is somewhat inconvenient for many people who are at home with a laptop or tablet in the WLAN. The providers, on the other hand, attribute the low figures to the fact that the internet quality is good and there is therefore hardly any reason to use the measurement tool.

When asked whether the mobile network measurement tool could be used as little as its fixed network counterpart, Federal Network Agency boss Müller said that tests with a smartphone app were easier than tests on a laptop with a LAN cable. "Most people use their smartphones frequently during the day anyway - so it would be straightforward for them to carry out the necessary app tests for the mobile phone reduction law."/wdw/DP/ngu