It’s difficult to make head or tail of bills at the best of times and understand hidden charges, but ComReg has confirmed again in recent cases against (i) Vodafone; and (ii) Imagine, the need for operators to be clearer when it comes to billing. In the case against Imagine, ComReg also took issue with Imagine’s contract termination procedures. Readers of previous ezines will be familiar with ComReg action taken against eircom in 2014 for improper contract termination procedures, including eircom’s then requirement that any customers wishing to switch provider had to first speak to eircom’s customer ‘Save’ team. After detailed investigation and threatened High Court enforcement action, eircom committed to change its contract termination procedures, as part of an agreed out-of-court settlement with ComReg.
On 2 March 2015, ComReg notified Vodafone of its finding that Vodafone had not complied with the requisite transparency obligations in regulation 14(2)(d) of the Universal Service Regulations 2011 (the “Regulations”), as regards Vodafone’s charges for paper bills for fixed line and fixed broadband services (the “Notification”).
For those not familiar with the Irish telecoms regulatory regime, regulation 14(2)(d) of the Regulations requires operators such as Vodafone, who provide publicly available telecommunications services to do so in accordance with a contract – and for that contract to contain certain minimum information. In particular, details of prices and tariffs must be specified in the contract in a clear, comprehensive and easily accessible form.
Pursuant to the Notification, Vodafone now has an opportunity to state its views or remedy the non-compliance within such time limit specified by ComReg (normally one month). Should Vodafone fail to do so, ComReg may take formal enforcement action and apply to the High Court for an appropriate order – this can include for example, a declaratory order that Vodafone is not in compliance, an order directing Vodafone to comply and/or remedy any effects of non-compliance and/or payment of a financial penalty, (regulation 31(5) of the Universal Service Regulations). There is no statutory minimum or maximum amount of penalty that can be awarded by the court under regulation 31(5). In practice however, the court will tend to have regard to such amount as may be proposed to it by ComReg.
On 13 April 2015, ComReg notified Imagine Telecommunications Business Limited (“Imagine”) of a finding of non-compliance with various aspects of regulation 14 and regulation 25 of the Universal Service Regulations 2011.
As noted above, regulation 14 contains certain minimum requirements that must be set out in contracts with consumers. As in Vodafone’s case, ComReg also found that Imagine had failed to provide sufficiently clear and comprehensive details of its prices and tariffs. Additionally however, ComReg identified further breaches of regulation 14, including the requirement to clearly specify in comprehensive and easily accessible form, any restrictions imposed on the use of terminal equipment supplied by Imagine, as well as Imagine’s failure to give customers one month’s advance notice of proposed contract changes and of the customer’s right to withdraw from his/her contract where he/she does not agree to the proposed change (regulation 14(4)).
To compound the matter, ComReg also identified breaches of various obligations under regulation 25 which seek to guarantee a customer’s ability to switch between telco providers by ensuring, inter alia, timely porting of the customer’s number with any loss of service restricted to one working day and avoidance of any contract terms or procedures which act as a disincentive to switching.
ComReg gave Imagine until 5 May 2015 to state its views or remedy the non-compliance. If after expiry of this period, ComReg is of the opinion that Imagine has not complied with the relevant obligation, ComReg may take the more formal High Court route of enforcement under regulation 31(5) Universal Service Regulations, discussed above for Vodafone.
ComReg has also been investigating various business aspects of carrier pre-select provider yourtel, in Ireland under the Privacy Regulations 2011 and Universal Service Regulations 2011. Read ComReg issues an Opinion of noncompliance to Yourtel with respect to provisions of the Privacy Regulations and ComReg issues a Notification of a Finding of Non-Compliance to Yourtel with respect to provisions of the Universal Service Regulations.
For further details on compliance, please see ComReg’s Annual Electronic Communications Compliance Report for 2014 (ComReg 15/24, published 6 March 2015). The Report contains a summary of compliance and misuse investigations and decisions (other than relating to spectrum and/or PRS).