Cellphone users pay for Net use, even if they don’t surf

Communications Ministry ‘fed up’ with companies’ hidden fees.

By
November 28, 2010 08:39
3 minute read.
Cellphone users pay for Net use, even if they don’t surf

cell phones 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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If you own a third-generation cellphone and don’t use it to surf the Internet, take a look at your bills. You are paying around NIS 25 a month per phone for the service nonetheless.

This is regardless of whether you purchased the device from your cellphone company or an independent store.

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The three largest cellular phone companies – Cellcom, Orange (Partner) and Pelephone – had combined revenues of NIS 18 billion and net profits of NIS 3.2b. last year.

According to estimates, a majority of Israelis with moreadvanced cellphones do not use them for accessing websites; they choose them for other features, such as built-in cameras and radios, or because they are fashionable and want to show them off. It is also getting more difficult to find earlier- generation cellphones, and the extra monthly charge is why the companies urge their customers to upgrade to 3-G models.

The Communications Ministry told The Jerusalem Post this week that it was “fed up” with the cellphone companies for not carrying out ministry instructions meant to protect consumers.

On Wednesday, the Knesset Economics Committee approved a ministry proposal to limit and reduce fines for canceling cellphone contracts.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon railed against the lack of competition that such exit fees produced.



Cellphone companies often “forget” to inform purchasers of more-advanced cellphones that they are 3-G and thus require them to pay the monthly fees even if they don’t use the Web feature. And those companies that reluctantly allow owners of 3-G phones to buy a 2.5-generation SIM card – for a one-time fee of some NIS 180 – that makes it impossible to surf the Internet try to hide this option.

Company representatives told the Post that even if customers were not informed about the extra charges, they “should have read the contract” they signed at the time of purchase. However, these documents – as long as a mortgage, with as much small print and requiring as many signatures – are almost impossible to understand without a lawyer at one’s side. Most customers rarely bother to read them before they sign.

Ministry spokesman Yechiel Shabi said that in 2008, the ministry demanded that all the cellphone companies offer an arrangement to customers who did not want to buy a “surfing subscription.”

At Cellcom, customers were to pay NIS 20 a month with a call rate of 85 agorot per minute; at Pelephone, the monthly rate was to be NIS 29.90, with calls costing 60 agorot per minute; and at Orange, whoever bought a 3-G phone from a non-Orange store was to be charged NIS 99 for a new SIM card and not be required to pay for the monthly surfing package.

But Shabi said that in practice, things were different.

“We did not succeed in enforcing these rules, as the cellular companies don’t carry out our instructions,” he said.

He said the ministry believed that customers should not be made to pay for a service they never used.

“We are reconsidering the 2008 arrangement and intend to make changes – and we will go to the Knesset Economics Committee for approval,” he said.

The ministry is aware of numerous shortcomings in the companies, such as long waiting times when a customer calls to complain about services or charges, but a quick response when the customer selects the option leading to the sales department. Customers who threaten to switch to another company – an option that is somewhat easier today, because they can keep their telephone numbers regardless of the company providing the service, but must still pay high exit fees – they are transferred to the “customer retention department,” and a soft-spoken representative offers benefits they had never been offered before.

The Post e-mailed a request for comment to the Israel Consumer Council – which does not have a phone operator answering calls even during working hours but accepts emails.

However, during the past week, no one answered the e-mail about cellular phone charges for those who don’t use them to surf the Internet.

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