Phone companies agree to treat customers better

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am

Faced with growing public discontent over the way they treat their customers, the city's major operators of fixed and mobile phone networks have agreed to follow a new voluntary code of conduct.

The telecommunications industry code, issued by the Communications Association of Hong Kong, targets service contracts, sales practices and arrangements for contract renewals and terminations.

Companies, including CSL, i-Cable, PCCW and SmarTone, have agreed to implement the code in the next three to six months.

It will allow customers who have signed contracts during promotional visits to their homes to use a cooling-off period, during which they may cancel the contract without penalty. Customers will also be provided with written confirmation of verbal agreements for services.

Written contracts must use a print size of at least nine point (slightly larger than used in this story) for the body text, footnotes and remarks, and must be clearly legible.

Customers may also terminate the contract if there are changes in service quality or prices due to a change in contract terms. And when they choose to do so, the termination should be easy and convenient.

Unless agreed, no contract will be renewed automatically.

A spokesman for the association said the code was proof that the industry was willing to strengthen the protection of consumer interests in contractual matters.

Much of the code was derived from a set of recommendations that the Office of the Telecommunications Authority issued to the industry in February, which was designed to help eliminate some bad practices.

Since 2006 complaints about telecoms services have topped the list of reports received by the Consumer Council. In 2008 a total of 9,759 complaints were received, even surpassing the 9,300 related to the Lehman Brothers minibond saga. In the first 10 months of this year, the council received more than 7,700 complaints about telecoms companies.

Connie Lau Yin-hing, the council's chief executive, welcomed the move. 'In general this is better for consumers,' she said. 'We hope the operators adopt these practices as soon as possible.'