Mobile phone operators today denied deliberate overcharging customers after three separate scandals in the last six months.
Representatives from Vodafone, O2 and Meteor appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications in Dublin’s Leinster House.
O2 admitted in June that it had overcharged 70,000 customers for roaming charges and days later, Vodafone said it overbilled 22,000 customers to the tune of €147,000.
Earlier this month, Vodafone said again that it had overcharged 550,000 customers for WAP services over the past year and a half.
Labour TD Tommy Broughan tonight said he was “a bit stunned” when he learned of all the revelations.
O2 Ireland CEO Danuta Gray said: “There is no deliberate overcharging. We have the same system (as Vodafone Ireland) and errors can occur but we’ve spotted them.”
However she admitted that O2 “did not communicate early enough” with customers as its roaming overcharging problem was discovered in late April but was not publicly announced until June.
Meteor Ireland’s director of public policy Andrew Kelly said: “There is no deliberate overcharging, certainly not on the part of Meteor and not in the industry in this country.”
The Committee heard that Ireland’s young population meant that 90% of people have mobile phones compared to just 50% with fixed land-lines.
O2 and Vodafone share about 93% of the market while Meteor has the remainder, but is growing rapidly in the pre-paid sector.
Hong Kong-based operator Hutchinson will be entering the Irish market in early 2005.
Committee members agreed that tariffs and bills were often too complicated for customers to understand and that high profits enjoyed by Vodafone and O2 should mean prices fall more dramatically than they were.
Committee chairman Noel O’Flynn said that roaming charges should be explained better to customers.
Senator Michael Finucane agreed: “My mobile bill sky-rockets when I return from abroad and I’d have only sent a few texts and the occasional call.”
In response to questions from committee members, Ms Gray insisted that O2 Ireland embraced competition “because we can only be successful if we compete in the market and give our customers better value for our services”.
On the subject of new 3G masts, Mr Broughan of the Labour Party called them “massive constructions”.
He added: “All these mini Eiffel Towers are dotting the landscape of North Dublin.”