LCQ18: Complaints on billing of telecommunications services
Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (November 11):
Recently, I have received complaints from a number of members of the public pointing out that they were charged by telecommunications service providers for services they did not apply for. In addition, some members of the public pointed out that the service charges of the telecommunications service providers were much higher than those they should actually pay, thus causing them to suffer huge losses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it knows the number of complaints, received respectively by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority and the Consumer Council in each of the past three years, which involved excessive fee-charging by telecommunications service providers, and the names of the service providers concerned, broken down by the type of telecommunications services (e.g. fixed-line telephones, mobile phones, external telecommunications and broadband Internet access, etc.) and the nature of complaints;
(b) among the cases mentioned in (a), of the number of those in which the complainants recovered compensation successfully, as well as the names of the telecommunications service providers which were prosecuted and the number of prosecutions instituted against them; and
(c) apart from continuing to implement the existing measures to regulate telecommunications service providers, whether the authorities will adopt new regulatory measures, so as to better protect consumers' interests; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The telecommunications services in Hong Kong are pervasive and competitive. Every year, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) and the Consumer Council (CC) receive a substantial number of complaints in respect of the billing (Note 1) of telecommunications services. The majority of these complaints are related to contractual disputes. Upon receiving the complaints, OFTA and the CC will refer them to the concerned service operators for follow-up direct. It is when there is evidence to indicate that an operator may breach the Telecommunications Ordinance (TO) or the licensing conditions that OFTA will commence investigation, and penalise the operator in substantiated cases.
My reply to the question is as follows:
(a) In each of the past three years, the number of complaints on billing disputes received by OFTA, broken down by the type of services, is set out below -
In each of the past three years, the number of complaints on billing disputes received by the CC, broken down by the type of services, is set out below -
As not all complaints are substantiated and some of these complaints may only be service enquiries, and different operators with different customer bases will also affect complaint figures, therefore, in line with the established practice of handling consumer complaints, OFTA and the CC will not publicise the names of the telecommunications services operators involved.
(b) For cases set out in Part (a), OFTA and the CC do not have figures on the number of complainants successfully recovering compensation or receiving refunds from the telecommunications services operators. As most of the complaints in respect of billing disputes are contractual disputes, OFTA do not intervene in these cases. OFTA has also found no breaches of the TO or the licensing conditions in respect of the complaints on billing (Note 2). Meanwhile, the main role of the CC is to help consumers resolve contractual disputes through mediation.
(c) At present, the licences issued by OFTA to the telecommunication services operators have included conditions for protecting consumers. For instance, the licensee has to ensure that the metering equipment and the billing system related to the provision of service are accurate and reliable. As aforementioned, if there is evidence to indicate that an operator is in breach of the TO or the licensing conditions, OFTA will commence investigation and penalise the operator in substantiated cases.
In addition, OFTA is running a pilot Customer Complaint Settlement Scheme (CCSS) to test the mechanism to resolve disputes between operators and customers. We reported the progress of the pilot CCSS to the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of the Legislative Council in June this year. When the pilot CCSS is to be completed in February 2010, OFTA will review the scheme and discuss with the industry on the viability of setting up a CCSS in the long run. Meanwhile, to further protect consumer interests, OFTA is discussing with the industry on developing a voluntary code of practice (CoP) governing the contracts of telecommunications services in order to enhance self-regulation of the industry. It is anticipated that the CoP will be implemented in the first half of 2010.
Note 1: While some complaints on billing involve excessive charging, some involve other disputes on billing such as customers not being clear about the charge plan or details. As such, the figures in Part (a) of the reply are not restricted to the complaints on excessive charging. Both OFTA and the CC have not further categorised such complaints related to billing.
Note 2: For other types of consumer complaints, the Telecommunications Authority decided in a case in 2008 that a telecommunications services provider engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and was in breach of section 7M of the TO. The financial penalty imposed was $70,000. This case, however, was not related to the billing complaints aforementioned.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009