Ofta tells mobile firms how to keep bills down

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority has recommended a series of measures to tackle the problem of unexpectedly high mobile phone bills that demand astronomical amounts in service fees.

The measures - recommended to mobile operators - include allowing customers to opt out of individual services; setting a charge ceiling; setting a cap for usage-based mobile services; and alerting customers via text messages when their preset usage threshold is reached.

The measures are to be taken up on a voluntary basis.

Both information technology lawmaker, Samson Tam Wai Ho, and Consumer Council chief executive, Connie Lau Yin-hing, welcomed the move, but said the government should review the situation to determine whether the measures should be made compulsory.

Ofta made its recommendations after a sharp rise in the number of complaints about mobile data services. There were 535 in the first half, already more than the 337 complaints for all of last year, 65 per cent of which were billing disputes.

Ofta said the measures were necessary given the growing popularity of smartphones and hi-tech mobile devices whose users subscribe to multiple plans to download data.

'The emergence and increasing popularity of smartphones and advanced mobile devices have boosted the demand for mobile data services. In tandem, the upsurge in the number of 'bill shock' complaints related to mobile services has become a common problem in many economies, and Hong Kong is no exception,' Ofta said in a statement yesterday.

The authority said the 'majority of mobile operators' had already implemented the measures 'to differing degrees' after it wrote to all mobile companies to adopt them in May.

It said providers including China Mobile, CSL, Hong Kong Telecommunications, Hutchison Telephone Co, SmarTone Mobile and China Motion Telecom had already adopted the charge ceiling or would do it soon. New World Mobility alerts customers with a phone call when their service fees reach a certain level.

The Consumer Council said it received 1,312 complaints about mobile phone bills for the first six months, involving HK$2.27 million - not far off the HK$2.47 million total involved in 2,174 complaints it received last year. The highest amount involved in an individual case in dispute this year is HK$84,000, compared with HK$66,000 last year.

'Billing by mobile service providers is a growing cause for concern as smart phones and hi-tech mobile devices become more popular. It is proper for the government to act without further delay. We will support legislating to make the measures compulsory if the voluntary measures prove ineffective,' Lau said.

The measures that individual mobile operators have put in place to keep bills at a reasonable level can be downloaded from Ofta's website: www.ofta.gov.hk/en/tips/servicetype/mobile/mobilebillshock.html.

Mobile provider PCCW said it had already taken up the Ofta measures.

'We are committed to ... ensuring we have the right measures in place to better serve customers at all times. The measures on the Ofta list have been in place for a while, based on this customer-focused strategy.'

Bill shock

With more smartphones and hi-tech devices used, billing disputes are rising

Ofta received 337 mobile data service complaints last year, but in this year's first half, it has already had this many: 535