Dermott Jewell of the CAI made the comments this week after it was revealed that Virgin Media would not broadcast the channels on its service from August 1 after it was unable to reach an agreement with Eir Sports to carry its six channels, including BT Sports.
While Virgin Media has been inundated with online queries from customers wishing to cancel their subscriptions as a result of the change, it has claimed the loss of channels does not change the terms of its contract.
This means that customers wishing to cancel their subscriptions may be liable for fees of up to €200.
“Terms and conditions of contracts are key and especially so in this case,” Mr Jewell said.
“Virgin are seeking to rely on their advice that channel line-ups can change.
“But this is a significant change and, arguably for some, the availability of these channels was the very reason why this package and contract was finalised by the consumer.”
ComReg, the statutory body responsible for consumer protection in the broadcasting sector, said that customers should have the right to cancel their contract if their television provider changes the terms of that contract.
“If service providers propose to change their customer contracts for electronic communications services then they must notify the customer of the change 30 days in advance of the change,” a ComReg spokesperson said.
“They must also advise the customer of their statutory right to withdraw from, or cancel, their contract without penalty if they do not wish to accept the change.”
Virgin Media’s terms and conditions state that, if it were to “significantly reduce the content of the Services [the customer] may terminate this Agreement by giving us one month’s notice within 30 days of such change”.
However, a spokesperson for Virgin Media said the fact that it can no longer provide its customers with access to either Eir or BT Sports does not amount to a breach of the terms of the contract.
“Within our T&Cs, the TV channel line-ups can and do change,” said the spokesperson.
“It doesn’t constitute a breach of contract because it is a separate pack, therefore cancellation fee does not apply,” she said of the BT Sports bundle.
Eir Sports, formerly Setanta Sports Ireland, was free to all Virgin Media customers.
“If a customer wants to cancel their full account, depending on whether in contract or not, a cancellation fee may apply.”
However, Mr Jewell said that a change “of this significance” should allow customers to be free to change provider without incurring a fee.
“Despite the view expressed by Virgin as to what would be their preference the reality remains that, as already pointed out by the Regulator, a change in contract — of this significance — requires that customers be advised that they can now cancel without penalty.
“Virgin should immediately clarify this to be the case.”