Telecom giant Meteor Mobile has been convicted and fined €25,000 for removing massive discounts from customers’ phone contracts without telling them.
In the first prosecution of its kind, the company pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to breaching statutory regulations.
The court heard the company, which is owned by Eir, had discontinued a 50% discount package. However, the bundle continued to be sold by shop operators and Meteor agents to 123 customers who later had it taken from them without any notification or any offer to withdraw from their contracts without penalty, which is required under the regulations. The case came after customers’ bills doubled and some of them complained to telecoms industry watchdog Comreg.
Judge John O’Neill described the company’s explanation that they had technical problems as “gobbledygook”. He also said it was ironic they were involved in the communications business when they had difficulty communicating to their stores that the packages should not be sold.
One customer got cut off when he complained that his discount had been taken from him without warning.
There were 123 counts of breaching the universal services and users rights regulations. Prosecution counsel Christian Keeling said it had been agreed that a guilty plea would be entered by Meteor to 10 counts and Comreg would withdraw the remaining charges.
He said the regulations contain consumer protection measures where a provider must notify subscribers of any changes and advise them of their rights to withdraw from their contract without penalty if they did not agree with the modifications.
Comreg compliance officer Miriam Kilraine told Judge O’Neill the 123 customers had been given a phone bundle with a 50% discount for 24 months. However, it was later removed from their packages.
Customers who complained were told that the discount had been given to them in error. “This resulted in their bills being effectively doubled,” she said.
The court heard that 29 customers complained directly to the company but refunds to all those affected came following intervention by Comreg. On top of the refunds, 111 customers who have remained with Meteor have been given the discount back for the duration of their contracts. The average refund was €240.
Ms Kilraine said Meteor had co-operated “in a qualified way” and Comreg found the information provided to it by Meteor was not of a standard they would expect.
They had no prior criminal convictions. However, Ms Kilraine said the company pleaded guilty in other proceedings for over-charging but that case was struck out after Meteor gave a charitable donation.
Joe Jeffers defending asked the company, which has agreed to pay prosecution costs, be given a chance to donate €10,000 to charity and spare it a conviction. However, Judge O’Neill refused and imposed fines totalling €25,000 which have to be paid within four months.
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