Telecom takes overseas call discounts back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 1998, 12:00am

Tens of thousands of Hongkong Telecom customers are receiving extra-large bills after the Government cracked down on its cut-price international rates.

The company has started sending out the bills after the ruling in June that the rates were illegal and anti-competitive.

In some cases consumers made calls to the United States at about $3 a minute - and they are now being asked to pay another $3.80 per minute on calls made months ago.

The company was ordered to scrap the deals and recover the discounts from customers dating back to April.

The Consumer Council said yesterday six complaints had been received. It called for an urgent review of anti-competition rules in telecommunications.

A spokesman said the firm's customers were 'being asked to bear the cost of what is actually a penalty intended for Hongkong Telecom'.

The council said consumers had accepted discounts in good faith and were now being asked to pay more through no fault of their own.

Sources indicate that most payment requests are in the hundreds of dollars - but some reach five figures.

The Consumer Council said the $20,000 fine on the company was 'far too lenient when compared to the commercial benefits a company might have derived from unfair market practices'.

The $20,000 fine was the first time a firm has been fined in Hong Kong for price-fixing - but because it was a first offence no higher figure could be imposed.

A Hongkong Telecom spokeswoman said it asked the Office of the Telecommunications Authority to allow old bills to stand - but this was refused.

She warned that if customers refused to pay the extra they would be cut off.