Federal agency is considering fines because the expansion is progressing too slowly (symbol image)
Julian Stratenschulte / DPA
Due to deficits in the mobile phone network expansion, a supervisory authority is considering asking Germany's large telecommunications providers to pay for the first time.
"The Federal Network Agency currently intends to impose a fine of up to 50,000 euros per location," says a letter from the Bonn authority to its advisory board.
The document is available to the dpa news agency.
The Federal Network Agency is therefore also considering levying fines.
Penalty payments could have even greater financial consequences.
According to the information, it is about locations that should have been built as part of the 2019 frequency auction by the end of last year, but were not.
The three established network operators Telefónica (O2), Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom are among the critics.
They reject the allegations and state that they have fulfilled the central requirements of the expansion obligations;
for example, that in every federal state at least 98 percent of households have a mobile phone connection with a download speed of 100 megabits per second.
In the case of so-called white spots, on the other hand, all three providers fell short of the specifications.
None of the three providers has 167 locations
This is about areas where no cell phone network can transmit 100 megabits per second.
Instead of having 167 own locations in such an area by December 31, 2022, Vodafone reported only 86, Telefónica 61 and Telekom 38. Among other things, the threat of sanctions in the letter to the advisory board refers to such locations.
The three network operators, however, emphasize that they are making progress.
A Telekom spokesman says there are 14 more locations under construction.
He also emphasizes that at the other 115 locations that are still missing, "there are mostly no dead spots," but there is "basic coverage."
So the mobile phone gets broadband reception, but the prescribed minimum transmission rate of 100 megabits per second is missing.
The companies also point out that they received a government list of the affected areas too late.
In addition, the expansion is simply not possible in some places, for example if no property owner is willing to rent a piece of land for a radio mast.
The erection of such masts is also difficult in nature reserves.
This could make it impossible to set up antennas in some places for so-called "legal and factual" reasons.
In such cases, the Federal Network Agency does not consider this a misconduct.
The Bonn authority is currently examining the documents that the companies submitted at the beginning of January.
Only then will it be clear how big the gap to the mandatory requirement of 167 is.
The biggest breach of the expansion obligations could not come from the three established network operators, but from the newcomer 1&1.
This company bought frequencies for the first time in 2019 and is currently building its own mobile network.
So far, 1&1 has sold mobile phone contracts in which customers are primarily connected to the O2 network.
1&1 pays rent to O2 for this.
The group from Montabaur should have activated 1000 5G stations at the turn of the year, but in fact there were only five.
1&1 justified this with delivery problems at a construction partner.
1&1 wants to reach 1000 in the summer of 2023.
Should 1&1 be sanctioned, it could be expensive.
However, it is unclear whether the Federal Network Agency will impose fines or penalties at all.
After the frequency auction in 2015, no network operator complied with all of its obligations either.
At that time, too, the regulatory authority threatened sanctions, but then showed leniency.
The letter to the advisory board, which is meeting this Monday, says: "When sanctions are imposed, an overall assessment takes place, in which the respective individual case is to be assessed." The sentence leaves room for interpretation.