FREE has been fined €100,000 for cheating customers by reducing internet speeds.
The criminal conviction for “deceitful commercial practices” comes at a bad time for the firm, which has just entered the mobile phone market with attractive new offers, and has faced a robust fight-back from the other main operators.
The Paris Criminal Court found the internet operator guilty of having secretly reduced the internet speed of customers who remained linked to the France Télécom network instead of going for the dégroupage option (unbundling).
The aim of the practice, thought to have affected a third of its customers, is said to have been to reduce Free’s bill from France Télécom.
Consumer body UFC Que Choisir had reported Free to anti-fraud officials at the DGCCRF, who confirmed the body’s suspicions were true.
UFC Que Choisir was also awarded €40,000 damages.
The matter dates back to 2006 and concerns the “triple-play” offer (landline telephone, home broadband internet and digital television), with which Free made its name.
An unnamed executive for one of Free’s competitors told France Info: “Mr Niel is always giving lessons in morality to his competitors; this conviction sets things straight. Free cheats its customers.”
In March last year Free lost another case brought by UFC Que Choisir and was ordered to make changes to some of its contract clauses and pay €50,000 damages to the consumer body.
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