Dominant French mobile operators Orange and SFR have been hit with a compensation claim from their diminutive rivals after a court ruled their offer of free calls was anti-competitive.
Between 2005 and 2008 Orange and SFR offered customers free calls within the same network, forcing third-position operator Bouygues to offer loss-leading deals, as the two dominant players own 85 per cent of the French mobile market.
Last December, the courts ruled the free calls were anti-competitive and fined the companies €183m (£159m, $243m), paving the way for this compensation claim.
Bouygues has been joined by various French MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) in the claim, and is asking for €790m (£684m, $1bn) from Orange and €650 (£563, $863m) from SFR to make up for the cost of lost customers and loss-leading deals.
Notably absent from the action is Free, which only launched 20 months ago and thus can't claim to have been damaged by tariffs which were withdrawn in 2008.
One might argue that Orange and SFR should be allowed to offer free calls within their own networks. Yet questions about monopoly abuse of this type have come up several times before and courts have generally ruled that a monopoly can exist even if it only applies to customers of a specific carrier. For example, Orange has monopoly access to Orange customers, even if that monopoly extends no further.
That's how the French court ruled in December, fining both Orange and SFR as well as releasing customers from their contracted agreements. With more than a billion euros on the table, the companies are unlikely to concede quickly and this litigation should run and run. ®