The French competition authority has fined mobile operators Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom a record total of €534m (£382m) for market collusion practices.
The practises are said to have taken place between 1997 and 2003. Orange, owned by France Telecom, has been fined €256m, SFR has received a €220m fine, and Bouygues Telecom a €58m penalty.
The competition authority said the operators engaged in two illegal practices: exchanging confidential information about the number of new customers and number of cancellations between 1997 and 2003, and agreeing between themselves the market share for each company from 2000 to 2002.
The competition authority said these practices had damaged the French economy and altered the intensity of competition between operators. The operators were not found to have fixed prices.
France Telecom has already announced it is going to appeal against decision. The other two are expected to follow suit.
Vincent Poulbere, an analyst at Ovum, said, “This is really bad news for the French operators. First, because of the record amount of the fine (from 14.6% to 18.3% of the operators’ net profit in 2004); second, because of the bad press resulting from this decision and the damage it will do to the operators’ brands and credibility.”
The UFC Que Choisir customer association is now planning a US-style class action lawsuit against the operators for compensation.
French mobile networks are among the most expensive in Europe for international users.