ANACOM sanctions MEO for engaging in unfair commercial practices following the October 2017 fires

By decision of 8 February, ANACOM imposed fines on MEO with a total of 329 thousand euros for the wilful commission of 16 serious economic offences. Given the legal regime applicable to cumulative sentences, this resulted in a single fine totalling 48 thousand euros, the maximum value permitted by law.

The offences relate to MEO's engagement in unfair commercial practices in its relations with consumers who were left cut off from electronic communications services following the fires in central Portugal which began in October 2017. When the services were restored, it was found that MEO provided false information to consumers, for example, by telling consumers that the fixed telephone service could not be provided on a stand-alone basis and that it was therefore necessary to contract a bundles of services. This information would have lead consumers to enter into new contracts – which did indeed occur in some cases.

The practices adopted by MEO are particularly serious, taking into account the vulnerability of subscribers who were deprived of electronic communications services for a period of months following a catastrophe that culminated in the loss of life and the destruction of property, as well as the loss of forest and green areas on which a large part of the population residing in the areas affected by the fires of October 2017 depended for their livelihoods. Some of the affected consumers remain particularly vulnerable, due to their age and the fact that they live alone, in isolated places cut off for months without communications.

The single fine with which MEO was sentenced corresponds to the maximum amount permitted by law. In ANACOM’s opinion, and in accordance with the timely concern expressed and recently reinforced with the request/guidance of the European Commission for Member States to ensure the application of penalties which are “… effective, proportionate and dissuasive …”, the maximum limit of the fines set for engaging in unfair commercial practices (24,000 euros) is not sufficient as a deterrent preventing the adoption of such practices in the communications sector. This limits the preventive effect that the application of penalties intends to achieve, demonstrating the need to review this legal regime.

The period allowed for a judicial challenge to ANACOM’s decision remains ongoing.