Phone cost adverts 'deceptive'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 12:00am

TWO phone companies are being investigated by the industry watchdog over claims they used deceptive adverts to lure more international callers.

One.Tel is accused of wrongly claiming its rates to the mainland were at 'record' lows for Hong Kong, despite a rival network offering calls to the mainland at less than one-third of the price.

And CTI Telecom is alleged to have advertised discount rates for June then increased them at the end of the month and backdated the rise to cover calls that had already been made.

Investigations into the complaints, lodged by other phone companies, are being handled by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta), which can fine networks between $200,000 and $1 million for issuing misleading or deceptive material.

The inquiries come as Ofta plans to audit networks' metering and charging systems over fears that a growing number of consumers are being overcharged for international and mobile phone calls.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that Ofta would soon begin 'naming and shaming' phone companies attracting the most customer complaints, despite opposition from within the industry.

The investigation into One.Tel concerns newspaper advertisements placed last month promoting the company's 1686 IDD service and saying charges to China had 'dropped to bottom'.

'Whatever you say, no one can be lower than us,' the adverts said. 'Now, for calls to China, the drop in IDD charges breaks a new record and hits a new low.'

One.Tel's rates at the time were $1.39 a minute to Shenzhen and $1.59 a minute to the rest of mainland China, 24 hours a day.

Ofta says, however, that New T&T had since May been offering off-peak calls to Shenzhen for 37 cents a minute and free calls to Shenzhen and Shekou every Sunday in August. One.Tel did not return calls yesterday.

The complaint against CTI Telecom says special 'night time promotional rates' for June were advertised on the company's own Web site on May 31.

It alleges that the rates for June appeared on the Web site again on June 29, but that the charges were higher than those originally promised and would apply to calls customers had already made. CTI officials could not be reached yesterday.

CTI has come under fire from Ofta before. In June, it was found to have deceived customers by promising the 'lowest price in town' for overseas calls, but excluding rivals' specials and giveaways from its comparison.

Meanwhile, Internet provider Hong Kong Broadband Network has been found guilty of breaking the telecommunications advertising code in a poster displayed in Lai King MTR station.

Ofta says the advert, which gave the impression that broadband Internet access could be supplied to customers in all parts of Hong Kong within 60 days, was misleading. The company told Ofta it intended to say its goal was to have SAR-wide coverage and that the 60-day pledge applied from the date a customer was approved for the service, not the date they applied. The company was told not to use the advert again.