Provision of a basic level of service (telephone connection, internet, electricity, etc.).
Companies providing telecommunications, postal, transport, energy, water and waste disposal services are considered as providing essential services. They are obliged to provide such services and are subject to an obligation to conclude a contract in this regard. These statutory obligations are designed to ensure that all citizens have a basic level of service for the services they need to conduct their daily lives.
Obligation to enter into a contract
These companies are subject to an obligation to enter into a contract. This means they must conclude a contract with anyone who meets the general requirements for their services. These requirements must be set out in their General Terms and Conditions (Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen - AGBs). The companies may not arbitrarily disadvantage anyone in respect of the conditions of the contract. in short, the obligation to contract means that companies cannot refuse to conclude a contract without citing reasons for doing so.
However, this does not mean that there are no reasonable grounds on which to refuse to enter into a contract. For example, a request to establish an Internet connection can be refused if the cost of doing so would make it economically unviable or if there is insufficient network coverage at the location concerned. Contracts may also be refused if the customer has such a poor credit record that they are not considered credit-worthy. Telecommunications companies are entitled to conduct credit checks prior to conclusion of the contract, and/or to commission a credit rating specialist to obtain relevant information. Under such circumstances, consumers have the right to request details of the data used by both companies for the purposes of conducting credit checks, and to be told where this data comes from. The company/companies is/are then required to provide this information in full, and to explain how they have calculated the consumer's credit rating. This information must be provided free of charge. If this information shows that data have been collected and/or processed illegally, the person being examined has the right to insist this data is deleted. They can claim this right by contacting their local data protection authority.
Telephone, Internet and postal services
'Universal services' are designed to ensure that everyone receives at least a basic level of provision. With this in mind, every individual has a right to a minimum range of telecommunications and/or postal services at affordable prices, and such services must meet certain quality standards. In the communications industry, universal services are provided on a competitive basis and encompass the following services:
- Access to the public telephone network. This connection must be suitable for operating a fax machine and accessing the Internet.
- Directory enquiries providing details of the telephone numbers of all individuals/companies in the directory, regardless of operator.
- Provision of a general telephone directory (telephone book) including details of all enrolled individuals/businesses, regardless of operator.
In practice, this means that everyone has the right to access the Internet, regardless of where they live or the location of their business. in order to fulfil the minimum service requirement, it must be possible to access the Internet using either a mobile or fixed connection. There is no automatic right to choose a specific connection type, or to insist that the connection is provided by a given company. A single operator is sufficient for providing the universal service. If this service is provided using a mobile connection, the consumer has a right to a connection that can be used indoors, but not necessarily to be able to use the connection in every individual room in the house/building.
Universal Internet service does not give consumers the right to insist on a fast Internet connection. The connection provided must be sufficient to provide adequate access to the Internet. Providers will be deemed to have met this requirement provided that the Internet connection they offer (regardless of whether it is a mobile or fixed connection) allows the consumer to take part in economic and social life (including e-banking, e-government, e-learning etc.) at an affordable price. The ability to stream media does not fall within the definition of an adequate service.
As far as postal services are concerned, the Austrian Post Office (Österreichische Post AG) is under an obligation to provide universal service, both within Austria and beyond its borders. Other companies are also free to offer such universal postal services. The universal postal service encompasses:
- Collection of mail
- Sorting of mail
- Transporting and
- Delivering letters weighing up to 2 kg and parcels weighing up to 10 kg, and
- Registered mail services and services for sending valuable items by post.
The Austrian telecommunications regulator, Rundfunk und Telekom Regulierungs-GmbH (RTR), is responsible for monitoring considerations for universal services in the telecommunications and postal sectors, as well as auditing General Terms and Conditions for universal services and taking action to ensure the services are provided as required. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) is responsible for ensuring that essential services are provided to individuals, including by issuing decisions to this effect.
Gas and electricity
The requirement to provide a basic level of service (universal service) under the General Terms and Conditions and at the standard rate, also applies to the electricity and gas sectors.
As a rule, this does not prevent companies from cutting off gas and/or electricity supplies if bills have not been paid. However, the statutory entitlement to a basic level of service means that consumers and small businesses who are struggling to pay their bills can use mechanisms to prevent their supply from being cut off, or to arrange for it to be restored quickly. These mechanisms can be used in respect of their current provider(s), or of another provider providing the required basic level of service. This is because, as with other universal services, suppliers are under an obligation to conclude a contract with the consumer for electricity and gas. Once the contract to supply universal services (Grundversorgungsvertrag) is concluded, this contract supersedes any previous contractual relationship to which the consumer may have been party. Such contracts can be concluded provided that the consumer explicitly appeals on the basis of their entitlement to a basic level of service, and pays the first instalment under the contract a month in advance.
However, concluding a contract on this basis does not have the effect of writing off any existing debts. What it does mean is that the connection cannot be cut off as a result of these unpaid bills, provided that, from the point at which the appeal is made, all costs associated with the new agreement to provide a basic level of service and any other associated costs are paid on time. Any disputes may be referred to E-Control's dispute resolution service.
- Communications and media (→ BMSGPK)German text
- I can't get a telephone connection, what can I do about it (→ BMSGPK)German text
- How can I get a broadband connection (→ RTR)German text
- Postal services (→ RTR)German text
- Conciliation body (→ RTR)German text
- Postal mediation service (→ RTR)German text
- Payment difficulties and cutting off supplies (→ E-Control)German text
- Dispute resolution service (E-Control)German text
- Data Protection Authority (→ dsb)German text
- Telecommunications and Post (→ BMF)German text
- Section 77 Elektrifzitätswirtschafts- und organisationsgesetz (ElWOG)
- Section 124 Gaswirtschaftsgesetz (GWG)
- Section 26 Telekommunikationsgesetz (TKG)
- Section 12 Postmarktgesetz (PMG)
- Universaldienstverordnung (UDV)
- Federal Ministry of Finance
- Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology