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Operators dismiss Ombudsman data concerns

Mobile News
November 18, 2011

Three, Vodafone, O2, Orange and T-Mobile all say they are doing enough to combat data bill shock

Mobile operators have hit back at comments made by Communications Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith that more needs to be done to prevent bill shock for data services.

Three, O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile all said they have had measures in place for some time which are designed to ensure customers are not presented with large bills at the end of the month for exceeding their data allowances.

These ranged from the “truly unlimited” mobile internet available from Three, to O2’s data bundles which don’t allow data to be used once they are finished, to Vodafone’s text service which notifies a user when they are nearing their data limit.

T-Mobile meanwhile claimed it was the only operator not to charge pay monthly customers “run on” charges when they exceed their data limit, while Orange said its latest products included a £1 per day cap on mobile internet data usage.

The Communications Ombudsman issued a statement yesterday (November 17)  highlighting the issues surrounding data bill shock, saying operators needed to do more to warn customers when their bills where rising.

“We are speaking to operators and asking that they take our advice to be very clear about the limits on the packages they sell, and to take quick and effective action to stop large, unexpected charges building up and to take steps to tell customers they exceed their limit,” the statement read.

The operator responses came after the Ombudsman pointed in particular to the advertisement of “unlimited” internet packages, which in actual fact had data limits, after which data charges apply.

Shand Smith added to the the official statement by telling the BBC that operators needed to give their customers updates as to when they where reaching their limits and also give customers advice on the kind of data that is being used.

But the operators fought back, with Three CEO David Dyson weighing personally into the debate saying: “Three’s all-you-can-eat data plans offer customers genuinely unlimited internet use on their smartphones and no out of bundle data bill shock.

“Both contract and pay as you go customers tell us they prefer the peace of mind of all-you-can-eat data to fair use policies or worse still: out of bundle data bill shock.”

An O2 spokesperson said the issues raised by the Ombudsman was dated and that it had dealt with the issue.

“We tackled this over a year ago by introducing data bundles, so customers never spend more than they agree to. We also text our customers to tell them how much data they’ve got left each month, and give them the option to buy more if they need, so they are always in control,” the spokesperson said.

As well as its text message service, a Vodafone spokesperson pointed to its recently released Data Test Drive product, which is aimed at giving all new customers truly unlimited data for their first three months.

“We clearly publish the amount of data that’s included with each price plan that we offer.If customers are getting near to the top of their allowance we text them to let them know,” a spokesperson said.

“We’ve also introduced ‘Data Test Drive’ for all new and upgrading consumer contract customers. It lets them use as much data as they like for the first three months of their contract – there are no caveats, asterisks, limits or restrictions on this.

A spokesperson for T-Mobile said: “We take transparency of customer charges for data use in the UK very seriously. T-Mobile customers, whether on pay monthly, pay as you go or You Fix plans, will never pay more than they expect for their mobile data usage in the UK.

T-Mobile’s sister Orange company said it took its responsibilities surrounding data services “seriously”.

An Orange spokesperson said: “We have a number of measures in place to ensure our customers can manage their bills for data usage in the UK.

“All of our latest price plans feature a £1 per day cap on mobile internet data usage; we offer great value data bundles for customers wanting to closely manage their expenditure, and for dongle and mobile broadband SIM users, all our mobile broadband plans come with a £40 bill promise so we never charge more than £40 for data in a month.

“We feel these measures, along with the information provided to customers at point of purchase clearly detailing data charges, go a long way to helping our customers avoid unexpectedly high bills.”

No backing from retailer

Despite their stance, the operators found no support from one of their largest high street retail partners Phones 4U which said the Ombudsman had a fair point.

Phones 4u Commercial and Trading Director Scott Hooton said the networks needed to take more responsibility regarding customer data use, which he said is on the rise across the country.

“Phones 4U would second the Communications Ombudsman’s comments that the mobile networks need to be a lot clearer when offering ‘unlimited data’ deals,” Hooton said.

“There is always a cut-off point where charges will eventually kick in and it’s vital that the networks take more responsibility and be clearer with people, so they don’t get stung by unexpected data charges.”

Hooton also offered advice to mobile consumers advising them to use Wi-Fi services when downloading or streaming to their handsets.
















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