Swiss price regulator has busy year

Rudolf Strahm, the Swiss price regulator, has had another busy year Keystone

The price watchdog, Rudolf Strahm, says 2006 was a busy year in which he dealt mainly with customer complaints regarding cable television and mobile phone charges.

This content was published on February 23, 2007 - 11:03

In all, he handled 1,364 public grievances, just 31 short of the record year in 2005.

In his annual report, published on Friday, Strahm noted that the majority of complaints were from people upset by the decision by the main cable television provider Cablecom to cut channels from its analogue offer.

The issue not only caused a flood of complaints but also resulted in Italy's deputy prime minister, Franco Danieli, paying a visit to the Swiss communications minister, Moritz Leuenberger, earlier this month.

As a result Cablecom reversed its decision to cut RAI Uno, the main channel of Italy's national public service broadcaster.

Italian is one of Switzerland's four national languages and there are more than 300,000 Italians living in the country.

"Price years"

Strahm and his colleagues also had their hands full dealing with mobile phone companies, which came in for criticism regarding the high cost of making calls abroad.

Another sector responsible for more complaints than last year was the post and delivery services. People were particularly aggrieved at the rising costs of making cash deposits and of customs duty charged by private delivery services for customs clearance on packages.

But the majority of complaints in 2006 were once again linked to the cost of medicines. The cost of hospital treatment and water, sewage and road sweeping rates were also of concern.

Despite the high number of complaints, Strahm said he was pleased to see that debate about Switzerland being a high price island had moved to the political level.

"The fact that parliament now has to make imminent decisions on topics such as Cassis de Dijon [a principle from EU law under which a product legally manufactured in one EU state may circulate freely in another], patents and parallel imports means we could describe 2007 and 2008 as 'price years'," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The post of price regulator was introduced in 1972.
The law on price surveillance took effect in 1986.
Complaints from the general public: 2005: 1,395 – 50% up on 2004 and 100% up on 2003.

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In brief

The post of federal price regulator stems from the law on price surveillance that came into force in 1986. The legislation came about as a result of a people's initiative.

The task of the civil servant is to monitor the level of prices of goods and services fixed by cartels and companies. An abuse results when prices are not determined by proper competition.

He can make recommendations to the authorities. As far as companies are concerned, if he cannot find an amicable solution, he can forbid all or part of a rise or decrease in price levels.

The sectors that have come under most scrutiny in recent years have been telecommunications, electricity and health.

Despite monitoring, prices are between 25% and 40% higher in Switzerland than in neighbouring countries.

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