Almost two years after the introduction of a so-called reduction right, on the basis of which Internet customers have to pay less money if their landline network is poor, consumer advocates see the regulation as a paper tiger. As a result of the change in the law at the time, consumers were not better protected and the theoretically gained customer protection rights were difficult to implement in practice, according to a letter from the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations (vzbv). In order to improve the situation, the association is calling for a flat rate reduction of 15 euros per month - until the deficit is eliminated.
Since mid-December 2021, consumers have had the right to a price reduction if their home internet is worse than contractually guaranteed. In a measuring tool from the Federal Network Agency, www.breitbandmessen.de, consumers have to prove the discrepancy between the contractually promised speed and the actual data rate.
This is complex, a total of 30 tests are necessary: there must be at least five minutes between the measurements, or at least three hours between the fifth and sixth measurements of a day. The total period for the "measurement campaign" - as the prescribed series of 30 tests is called - must not be longer than two weeks. These requirements make it clear that consumers have to be really serious about checking - you don't get a measurement report like that just by the way.
If the protocol certifies that the consumer is entitled to a price reduction, the next step should be to contact their provider. The currently valid regulation contains clear criteria as to when a consumer is entitled to the said price reduction, but leaves room for interpretation when it comes to the question of exactly how high this price reduction should be.
This lack of clarity annoys consumer advocates. “Providers calculate the amount of the reduction in a non-transparent and too low manner, and may not grant any reduction at all or grant special termination,” says the vzbv letter. The list of hurdles and complaints from consumers is long. The association demands that there should be significant improvements in a legal reform. Internet that is too slow is a real nuisance, said vzbv board member Ramona Pop. "If the discrepancy between the actual and contractually guaranteed bandwidth is too large, consumers must be compensated in a straightforward manner."
If the provider does not offer any compensation or if it is too low, the consumer's only option is to go to the local court. Some people might shy away from it. A flat-rate price reduction would significantly improve his position in the dispute with the provider.
The Federal Network Agency, from which the measurement tool comes, has no authority to determine the amount of the discount. “According to the law, the contractually agreed remuneration must be reduced in the proportion in which the actual service deviates from the contractually agreed service,” says a spokesman for the Bonn federal authority. "Companies use different calculation methods."
Is the legal right used?
Are consumers actually making use of their new legal entitlement? Figures from the network agency are sobering: between mid-December 2021 and the end of December 2022, around 108,000 Internet users began the necessary measurement campaign, but only 29,000 of them completed it and were then certified in almost all cases that they were entitled to a price reduction. Many people canceled the campaign beforehand because, according to the first measurements, their home landline wasn't that bad after all, or because it was simply too tedious for them to carry out all 30 measurements in the required time frame.
The 29,000 certified legal claims for price reductions are only a very small part of the tens of millions of Internet users in Germany. And it is also a fact that the Internet offering has improved overall - providers like Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom are investing a lot of money in their network to enable a faster and more stable connection.
On the other hand, there are likely to be many citizens whose expectations of the home Internet are disappointed, but who then do not use the network agency's measurement tool - either because they don't know it at all or because it is generally too time-consuming for them.
And what do the providers say about the 15 euro demand? Jürgen Grützner from the VATM industry association shakes his head. When it comes to the right to reduce the price, the individual case must always be considered; after all, the contracts available on the market contain very different services. From the VATM's perspective, a blanket reduction would not be permissible.