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Product: Telecommunications – Mobile Network
Medium: Internet, Radio
ASAI Code 6th Edition: 1.6(c), 2.9, 2.22, 2.24
The Meteor website advertised unlimited Data for €10 for pay as you go customers.
“Unlimited Data for €10. A great offer. Simple as that.
Our latest Pay As You Go offer is brilliantly simple – you can now get Unlimited Data for €10 a month.”
The advertisement included details for both existing and new Meteor customers on how to avail of the offer. A footnote at the bottom of the page stated:
“Offer ends 31 May 2014. Fair usage allowance of 7.5GB monthly applies. Terms & conditions.” The reference to terms and conditions was a hyperlink which brought users to a webpage which listed out the relevant terms.
The Radio advertisement stated:
“Meteor’s new pay as you go offer is brilliantly simple. You get unlimited data for ten euro. That’s it really, sin é. And I mean a lot of prepay offers are quite complicated so, you need a bit of time to explain them but, unlimited data for 10 euro from Meteor is as simple as it sounds. Freetext data to 50104, another great pay as you go offer from Meteor. Simple as that. Offer ends 31st May 2014. Fair usage allowance of 7.5gig monthly applies. See meteor.ie for terms.”
Twenty three complaints were received regarding the advertising. The complainants considered that the use of the word ‘Unlimited’ was misleading as there was a Fair Usage Policy (FUP) of only 7.5GB on the plan.
Meteor stated that there was a market precedent, set by another operator’s recent campaign in which they also offered Unlimited internet for €10. They stated that this precedent defined fair usage allowance of 7.5GB and they were following this precedent with their product offering. They also stated that they had ensured through their communications that customers were made aware of the fair usage allowance in advance of any decision to purchase.
They advised the Secretariat of their customers’ average usage of the plan and that the percentage who had exceeded the fair usage policy was in excess of 1%.
The Secretariat advised Meteor of the Complaints Committee’s ruling on the use of ‘Unlimited’ and the Committee’s decisions on the maximum percentage (1%) of customers that should be affected by a fair usage policy.
Further comments from Meteor:
In reply, Meteor acknowledged that the Complaints Committee had made such a ruling, however, they requested the basis on which the percentage figure had been reached as they considered a lower figure than 99% would be more appropriate.
They stated that the majority of their customers (percentage figure provided to the ASAI) were within the fair usage allowance and that the average usage was well below the 7.5GB. They also stated that they ensure that their customers are given advance warning as they approach the 7.5GB fair usage allowance. Once the customer reaches 80% of their allowance they received the following message: “You have nearly reached our Fair Usage Limit, after which you will pay standard rates. To buy a 1GB Booster Data Add-on for €9.99, text Booster1 to 50104.” They advised that once a customer had reached 100% of the limit they received the following text message: “You have reached your Fair Usage Limit and you will now be charged standard rates. To buy a 1GB Booster Data Add-on for €9.99, text Booster1 to 50104.”
The advertisers subsequently stated that a fresh analysis of their data users base then showed that more than 99% did not exceed the FUP.
The Secretariat then met with Meteor to discuss the case and requested details on the percentage of customers on the price plan in question who had exceeded the FUP of 7.5Gb.
In reply, Meteor stated that when a new plan was being offered, the information required on the number of customers affected by the FUP would not be available until the plan had been in operation for a number of months. As the plan had then been in existence for some months they were able to provide information on the percentage of customers that exceeded 7.5Gb, which was in excess of 1%. They stated that they were no longer advertising the add-on in question and that they would be looking into data amounts and naming conventions going forward.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
The Committee explained that they understood the concerns of consumers that ‘unlimited’ should effectively mean no limits at all. They also, however, understood that operators needed to ensure that their service was available to all their customers and that availability should not be affected by some who, through excessive use, might abuse a particular offer.
It was in this context that the Complaints Committee had previously adjudicated that the term ‘unlimited’ could be used in certain circumstances, including the requirements that at least 99% of customers must not be affected by the FUP and that customers must be warned and given an opportunity to modify their usage before being charged. The Committee pointed out that advertisers were free to set a usage limit on any plan and to charge for excess usage, provided they did not describe the plan in marketing communications as ‘unlimited’ or similar.
In this case, the Committee noted that while the advertisers had referred to a similar limit in a fair usage policy set by another provider in the market, the essential consideration in developing a FUP should be each company’s experience based on their customers’ usage.
The Committee noted that the percentage of Meteor customers affected by the fair usage policy was in excess of 1%. They also noted that the advertisers had procedures in place in which consumers were provided with a warning when approaching the fair usage limit. However, once the limit had been reached, consumers were immediately charged which the Committee considered was not in line with their previous adjudication.
They therefore considered that the advertising was in breach of Sections 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.
The Committee noted that the advertised offer was no longer available and that all advertising had ceased. They also noted that the advertisers were reviewing their data amounts and naming conventions for future products.
The Committee questioned whether, in a market with increased use of digital media, it was still appropriate for plans to be described as ‘unlimited’ where FUPs were in place. They considered that there were still benefits for consumers to be offered unlimited plans even where FUPs were in place provided certain conditions were met and where consumers were, in the main, not required to self-regulate their behaviour in order to avoid the threshold.
The Committee asked the Secretariat to review current plans with the operators and to consult with ComReg to check to what extent the current policy required amendment.