Telephone company censured over adverts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2000, 12:00am

PHONE company One.Tel was rapped by authorities yesterday for deceiving customers by saying no one offered cheaper calls to the mainland when five of its rivals had lower rates.

One.Tel unfairly advertised its rates to the mainland as being at 'record' lows, despite charging up to $1 a minute more than its competitors were at the time, the industry watchdog said.

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) said One.Tel misled potential customers. It ordered the company not to make similar claims in future unless they could be backed up.

The advertisements appeared in newspapers in August and said charges to China under the company's 1686 IDD service 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 the mainland, 24 hours a day.

Ofta said yesterday that New T&T had for months been offering off-peak calls to Shenzhen for 37 cents a minute and had free calls every Sunday in August.

Four other phone companies were also offering calls to Shenzhen at rates lower than One.Tel's - SmarTone Mobile, CTI Telecom, New World Telephone and Cable & Wireless HKT.

One.Tel's claim about cheap rates to the rest of China were also misleading, Ofta said. While One.Tel was charging $1.59 a minute, SmarTone Mobile customers were paying $1.58.

Ofta said it did not accept One.Tel's argument that its offer was 'fair, reasonable and not misleading' because its offer was 'of totally different nature' to those of its rivals. The network claimed that because it was the only company offering around-the-clock cheap rates for an indefinite time period, its claim was justified.

'An average reader would take it that in any hour of a day, no IDD operator could offer IDD rates for calls to China lower than that of One.Tel, and that One.Tel's claim was made after comparing its rates with those of other IDD operators,' an Ofta spokesman said.

Phone networks can be fined between $200,000 and $1 million for issuing misleading or deceptive material.

The Post last month reported that Ofta plans to audit networks' metering and charging systems because of fears that a growing number of consumers are being overcharged for international and mobile phone calls.

Meanwhile, Cable & Wireless HKT has been cleared of wrongdoing over claims about the speed of its broadband Internet connections.

A customer complained to Ofta that the Netvigator 1.5M Ultraline service was slower during peak times and never reached a transmission speed of 1.5Mbps (megabytes per second), despite the company's advertising that each customer had their own line so heavy traffic would not affect the service.

Ofta said yesterday it accepted Cable & Wireless HKT's explanation that transmission speed depended on many factors, including the Web sites being viewed and the user's equipment. It said it was industry practice to promote the maximum transmission speed possible in adverts rather than what users might actually get.

But it said many consumers would not know that and urged all Internet service providers to explain it in their promotional materials.

Graphic: TEL15GET