Telecom firms reject bid to regulate ‘bill shock’

Telecom operators in Ireland have rejected possible new regulations that would help consumers avoid ‘bill shock’ where they receive unexpectedly large bills after going over their monthly allowance.

Telecom firms reject bid to regulate ‘bill shock’

Telecom operators in Ireland have rejected possible new regulations that would help consumers avoid ‘bill shock’ where they receive unexpectedly large bills after going over their monthly allowance.

Communications regulator ComReg is examining if new regulations are required that would compel the mobile phone and broadband firms to provide usage or spending alerts to warn consumers when they are likely to exceed their monthly allowances.

The call for inputs by ComeReg was on the back of research which found that one in five householders have experienced bill shock.

However, Vodafone, Eir, Tesco Mobile, Sky, Three, and Virgin all made submissions to ComReg claiming bill shock was not a major issue for consumers in Ireland, and that specific regulations would be costly to implement and would ultimately be counterproductive.

ComReg said alert facilities are currently not uniform or standardised here.

There is very little ability for consumers to select a spend alert or spend cap, and where these do apply, the limit is pre-set by the service providers and is in excess of the plan monthly fee.

In their submission, Eir said the propensity for bill shock arising from fixed and mobile voice calls is declining. “It is not clear that there is adequate justification for the provision of spend alerts to be mandated. It should be noted that the billing system functionality to support new alerts (usage or spend) may be expensive and time consuming to implement and any such requirements must be fully justified.”

In their submission, Tesco Mobile said consumer apathy was an issue and that addressing this with further alerts is misplaced and ultimately counterproductive as a consumer could receive a further two or four messages on top of any service or marketing messages they already receive.“We believe that this would be excessive, confusing and ultimately, counter-productive.”

Tesco Mobile said that ComeReg should instead conduct an information awareness campaign similar to the Central Bank’s ‘Tracker Mortgage’ ads which they said would greatly increase consumers’ knowledge about ways to manage their costs and reduce bill shock.

Three Ireland said it would not be a good idea for ComReg to impose rules around proactively providing tariff advice to consumers but said: “Three would not be opposed to the development of a voluntary code of practice which operators would sign up to in order to deliver usage/spend alerts specific to their business and customer needs.

Virgin Media and Vodafone said such requirements would be complex and take time to implement and said they already offer their customers the ability to monitor their usage.

An Post and bulk mail operator Tico Mail also made submissions and said postal communications should be used to notify consumers of important information.

“The provision of paper notification to consumers of crucial contractual information, and the protection of choice in billing mediums, leads to an improvement of consumer awareness of the terms of their contractual relationships with service providers, and the avoidance of “Bill Shock” or similar financial harms,” An Post said.

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