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Fix our phone rights

Unfair mobile phone contracts are being targeted in this year’s World Consumer Rights Day, which takes place on 15 March.

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Consumer organisations around the world are using the event to highlight problems affecting consumers of mobile services. These include:

  • unfair contract terms
  • unexpected fees
  • misleading information.

Global watchdog Consumers International says the number of people using mobile services is nearing 7 billion. But while the technology has provided greater access to communication services, consumers are being disadvantaged by unfair practices.

Kiwi consumers are no exception. In February, we reported on [misleading behaviour] by several telcos which had fallen foul of the Fair Trading Act. The latest saga involved a mobile broadband promotion run by Vodafone. The company reached a settlement with the Commerce Commission in December, agreeing to refund nearly $270,000 to customers who were likely to have been misled by the promotion.

In 2013, we published a report on [faulty mobile phones] following a string of complaints that major telcos were failing to honour their obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act. Despite the phone having a manufacturing fault, consumers were told they had to pay for repairs. This isn’t what the law says. Our regular [mobile-phone surveys] also continue to identify problems with unreliable connections and disappointing download speeds.

Phone rights agenda

Along with consumer organisations around the world, we’re calling for better protection for consumers in the mobile market. We want:

  • Fair contracts: Unfair contract terms are an ongoing problem for consumers, with lengthy lock-ins and steep cancellation fees among complaints. A ban on unfair terms will finally become law next year: companies need to start looking at their contracts now to make sure they’ll comply.
  • Clear pricing information: Telcos are notorious for using pricing which is so confusing you almost need a maths degree to work out the cost. We want standard prices and key terms to be displayed in a consistent format so consumers can easily compare offers from different providers.
  • A mandatory complaints process: Telcos regularly feature in consumer complaints. We want membership of a dispute resolution scheme to be compulsory so consumers have somewhere to turn when problems arise. The big players are members of the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution service but membership isn’t compulsory and there are smaller operators who don’t belong.

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