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Cell phone customers have right to object to price increase

In the event of unilateral price increases by the mobile communications provider, customers always have a right of objection – even for increases of less than 5%. The threat of a block in the event of a payment default of at least €75 can also be made in text form, ruled the Frankfurt am Main Higher Regional Court.

The plaintiff in this case was the umbrella organization of consumer associations, and the defendant was a mobile communications provider. The parties disputed the validity of two clauses in the defendant’s general terms and conditions. Digit. Section 7 of the General Terms and Conditions entitles the defendant to block the connection “without prejudice to other statutory provisions” if the customer is in arrears with an amount of at least EUR 75 and it has threatened to block the connection two weeks in advance in text form, including an indication of legal protection options. According to sec. IX.6. the customer may object to a price increase by the defendant if the increase is more than 5% of the price applicable up to the date of the increase. The plaintiff considers both clauses invalid.

The Regional Court partially upheld the action and ordered the defendant to cease and desist insofar as it concerned the form of the threat of blocking (in text form) and the customer’s objection to price increases. The defendant’s appeal against this was partially successful before the OLG.

The OLG ruled that the Regional Court had wrongly objected to the clause according to which a block can be threatened in text form. The simple text form was not objectionable here. By requiring the text form, the defendant rather reflects the legal situation “as it exists anyway when correctly interpreting the requirement in § 45k TKG that the blocking must be threatened “in writing”,” the OLG justifies its decision. “In writing” does not mean “written form” within the meaning of Section 126 of the German Civil Code. This is already evident from the history of the law. Moreover, the necessity of the threat serves solely to inform the customer. This purpose is “fulfilled just as reliably by a paper-based notification as by a permanently available and readable declaration on an electronic data carrier, i.e. in particular by an e-mail,” the OLG states.

However, the defendant was rightly ordered to refrain from granting customers the right of objection in the event of a price increase only if the price increase exceeds 5%. Rather, customers must be granted the right to object to any unilateral change in the terms of the contract – in this case in the form of a price increase. This follows from the so-called Universal Service Directive of the EU (Art. 20 Par. 2 Directive 2002/2 20/EC as amended by Directive 2009/135/EC). The question of whether the price increase is “substantial” is therefore irrelevant. Moreover, a price increase of 5% is not small and can be significant for some customers.

The decision is not final. The Senate has allowed an appeal to the Federal Court of Justice on grounds of fundamental importance.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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