CSL lawsuit turns the spotlight on HK's roaming fees
When Ben Sargent went to Italy to attend a friend's wedding and then to Dubai for a holiday last summer, his international phone calls totalled less than one hour. He came home to a HK$2,540 bill from CSL.
Now, Sargent, 40, is probably the first person to take a Hong Kong mobile phone company to court over non-transparent roaming charges.
CSL has some of the highest roaming rates in Hong Kong. Its rates in Italy, for example, are from HK$27.64 to HK$46.56 a minute compared to PCCW's HK$26.90 to HK$33.46.
However, roaming rates of Hong Kong firms altogether are some of the highest in the world.
Furthermore, the charges Sargent received from his trips were several hundred Hong Kong dollars over the published rates on CSL's website.
Sargent, who works at an investment bank in Hong Kong, first contacted CSL on September 23 to inquire about the rate discrepancy. It told him that his bill included rate increases due to the exchange rate, its policy of rounding up to the nearest minute and extra charges from third-party service providers' tariffs, according to e-mails.
Sargent thought CSL's explanation did not make sense. 'At the time the euro was trading at a 12-month low, so that would actually lead to a reduction in cost,' he said. 'The rates on their website are already rounded up, so that is not a logical explanation either, and CSL should have accounted for third-party tariffs in their rates instead of applying hidden charges.'
CSL eventually offered Sargent a refund of HK$23.67 in December, which he rejected.
The Consumer Council helped Sargent file a claim to the Small Claims Tribunal.
'We don't know what our roaming charges will be until after we make our calls,' he said. 'Under that logic, mobile companies could say they have a right to charge customers a million dollars, or any other amount of hidden fees.'
The first hearing between Sargent and CSL at the Small Claims Tribunal was in April, where Sargent rejected CSL's settlement offer of HK$270.
The second hearing is scheduled for August 1. Sargent is asking for a full refund on all roaming overcharges, and compensation for costs he incurred during the legal process.
CSL issued a defence in the run-up to the August 1 hearing, where it denied Sargent's claim and stated that it 'did not overcharge the claimant during the six years between 2006 and 2012'.
CSL spokeswoman Ruby Lo said: 'In relation to roaming rates, our charging is in line with industry standard practices across other operators in Hong Kong.'
CSL's acting CEO, Han Kotterman, sent Sargent an e-mail on Thursday saying: 'I am disappointed with the way the issues have been handled from our side so far and hence would like to see if there is an opportunity for us to connect.'
Complaints the Consumer Council has received about the city's mobile phone companies in the past two years