Cellphone users to not pay for service they don't want

Starting in March, customers will have to ‘opt-in’ for Internet, other services, and will get clear one-page summary of their contracts.

December 13, 2010 01:01
3 minute read.
Cellphone users to not pay for service they don't want

cell phones 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

If you’re used to receiving a monthly cellphone bill and not understanding what most of the charges are for, things are going to change.

Starting on March 7, cellular phone customers will no longer be forced to sign documents with “small print” they don’t understand or pay for services they don’t want or use, according to new regulations announced on Sunday by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon.

The clear, exacting rules will bring a halt to unfair practices by cellphone companies, said the minister, who announced 16 major changes after giving the companies a chance to comment.

“From now on, the customer will know exactly what he is committing himself to and will be charged only for what he specifically asked to receive,” said the minister, who has targeted cellular phone companies for additional supervision and control due to large numbers of public complaints against them.

Customers will not be charged for services that they didn’t specifically agree to. At present, everyone (including minors and employees of companies that supply the phones to workers) who has a “third-generation” and above phone with the option of Internet surfing, is charged for the Internet connection even if they don’t use it.

From March 7, customers will stipulate on forms whether they want specific services or want to block them; these include Internet surfing; single-use content such as downloading video, ringtones or games; voting for reality TV shows; donations to charities; transportation service information; trivia questions; recipes; general or sports news; and overseas phone services.

Existing customers who have already signed contracts will receive – at least twice a year with their bills within the first year of the regulations– a form asking the company to block or supply specific services. All extra services, except for overseas calls, provided to customers who do not send the company their preferences during the first year will be blocked.

Current cellphone contracts are as long and complicated as mortgage contracts, and only a rare customer reads them before signing. From now on, cellular customers will receive a single page stating what their contracts contain, without “small print.” No addition or change may be made by hand.

The details will include when the contract begins and ends, all services supplied and what set fees must be paid, how fines for prematurely ending contracts are calculated, benefits and more. Along with the customer’s signature will be that of the company representative who assisted him.

The cellular companies will have to keep copies of all agreements and present them to the ministry on demand.

Cellular companies advertise some of their programs and rates on their Internet sites, but sometimes the information is not updated or relevant. From March, the one-page document signed by the customer will be the official standard, and all advertisements must present the same conditions and rates as the websites.

The companies must not supply and charge for services that the customer did not specifically request in writing, via the company’s website, via e-mail or by SMS. If he is charged for such services, he must be fully reimbursed.

If a customer complains about charges for services he did not order, the company must respond within 21 days. Such payments must be returned with linkage and interest, and reimbursements over NIS 100 must be transferred immediately, in a single payment, to his bank account within three working days.

The companies will not be allowed to make use of credit card or bank details after a customer’s final bill is paid.

Customers are often unaware of the fact that they used a greater amount of Internet surfing services than agreed upon and are charged at higher rates. According to the new arrangement, when they near 75 percent to 95% of their quota, they will be informed. They will be charged no more than 1.25 times the basic charges for going over the quota.

At present, the companies have raised rates only a short time before they go into effect.

In the future, the company must inform all customers and the Communication Ministry – in writing – of the intention to raise rates no less than 14 days before the change. The customer and ministry may be informed up to a month in advance if rates are being reduced.

Cellphone bills must be sent at least 10 days before automatic bank orders are carried out and accounts are debited.

There are also special rules for business clients.

The ministry also said that the cellphone companies should not charge customers inside Israel who call customer service or complaint numbers.

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