PRAGUE, April 4 (Reuters) - Czech lawmakers have approved in an initial reading a bill allowing regulators to levy higher fines on telecoms companies, one of several measures the government is pushing to put more pressure on operators to cut prices and improve services.
Network operators O2 Czech Republic, Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile and Vodafone, have come under fire over data prices, criticised by politicians and customers as some of the highest in the European Union.
The bill enables the Czech Telecommunications Office (CTU) watchdog to impose a fine of up to 10 percent of net revenues, which could be doubled if a company commits another offence within two years of the first one.
O2 Czech Republic reported revenues of 37.5 billion crowns ($1.48 billion) in 2016, compared with T-Mobile’s 26.5 billion.
Fines are currently capped at 40 million crowns.
Under the law operators would also have a maximum 10-day period to release a customer from their contract, instead of the current 42 days.
The draft bill must still pass two more readings in the lower house before going through the upper chamber and being signed by the president.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka made the telecom services, especially data prices, one of his main pre-election topics, sacking Industry Minister Jan Mladek in the process over his alleged lack of activity on the issue.
The new minister, Jiri Havlicek, took office on Tuesday with telecoms at the top of his agenda.
Main political parties have agreed to pass the bill before the current term of the lower chamber of parliament ends in the autumn. Sobotka’s Social Democrats party lags by a two-digit margin behind the ANO movement led by Finance Minister Andrej Babis. ($1 = 25.4140 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Greg Mahlich)