The damage suffered by the country’s SMEs already exceeds CHF 100 million but could prove to be considerably higherof.
ZIP.ch, an online directory and digital agency for SMEs, has brought today a case against SWISSCOM to the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) for serious contraventions committed during the maintenance and management of the universal directory pertaining to public service.
In pursuance of the law and its public mandate, SWISSCOM is obliged to maintain a public directory of Swiss subscribers – a directory that must satisfy the latest technical requirements and include information expected by its users (in particular the names of all subscribers, telephone numbers, addresses, search categories) – and guarantee directory publishers access to the entirety of this information under non-discriminatory conditions determined according to costs.
It now appears that SWISSCOM has manifestly abused its entrusted assignment in favour of its own commercial interests.
In its complaint, the directory ZIP.ch shows that Swisscom Directories SA – the operator of the directories local.ch and search.ch to which SWISSCOM delegated management of the universal public directory – had knowingly concealed from it the identity of hundreds of thousands of subscribers in order to do damage to its service and subsequently made provision of the data concerning these missing subscribers subject to unfair financial conditions.
Moreover, ZIP.ch demonstrates that SWISSCOM, with the collusion of the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), has been compiling a restrictive list of several dozen free commercial categories and illegally billing thousands of other categories to the country’s businesses (e.g. doctor, fiduciary, hairstyling) since at least 2006. Based on an initial estimate, the damage suffered by these businesses is in excess of CHF 100 million. This restrictive list was in use until 31 January 2014, the date on which SWISSCOM obtained from OFCOM the outright withdrawal of categories as an essential element of the universal public directory, an act of elimination that is in serious contravention of the Federal Telecommunications Act. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Swiss companies are still falling victim to this illegal practice every year.
More serious still, ZIP.ch shows also that Swisscom Directories illegally profited from its management of the public mandate, and in particular from the privileged contracts that this entailed with newly registered subscribers, in order to make commercial offers at the same time from its directories local.ch and search.ch by telephone or by using contact e-mails from the universal public directory. The result is harvesting of upstream advertising budgets by means of the public mandate, in contradiction of the most basic competition rules and to the detriment of end consumers, which the Swiss Price Supervisor already raised in a position paper dated 9 April 2014.
With the recent expansion of offers proposed by Swisscom Directories (e.g. MyWEBSITE, MyPRESENCE, MyCAMPAIGNS), thousands of companies active in digital solutions and products for SMEs are now the victims of this unfair competition.
In its complaint, ZIP.ch demands ComCom take immediate measures to bring an end to the derailing of the public mandate by SWISSCOM, in particular by means of a clear separation between activities pertaining to the universal service and commercial activities of SWISSCOM, in compliance with the principle of competitive neutrality recently advocated again by the Federal Council in its “State and Competition” report of 8 December 2017. In this regard, ZIP.ch will imminently bring a further complaint to the Federal Competition Commission (COMCO) in relation to serious distortions of competition committed in this context.
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About ZIP.ch SA:
Launched in 2015, ZIP.ch offers a simple, free online directory service covering all subscribers in the Swiss directory and a range of digital products for SMEs and the self-employed (e.g. mylocation.ch; myagenda.ch; mywebsite.ch; myseo.ch).