SmarTone's data flip-flop dials up users' frustration
Dozens of angry and confused smartphone users rang Consumer Council hotlines yesterday after SmarTone reversed its decision to scrap unlimited mobile data plans.
The operator, which boasts more than a million subscribers, announced two weeks ago it would stop offering unlimited plans to new clients from February 13 to meet new rules requiring phone service providers to spell out the devil in the detail of their unlimited plans.
The rules were introduced this week in response to consumer complaints about restrictive 'unlimited' service plans. They say service providers offering such plans must ensure they offer the service free of restrictions. If limits are necessary, the provider should consider offering plans with a high-usage cap, telecoms regulator Ofta says.
With competitors CSL and Hutchison's 3 announcing they would continue to offer the service, SmarTone made a U-turn on Monday and said it was resuming unlimited plans.
Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said the watchdog received three complaints and 27 inquiries yesterday about confusion over conflicting information from 'a telecom company'.
'It's hard to establish that the consumers were misled,' Lau said. 'But the company did not have consumers' interests at heart.'
The flip-flop upset some SmarTone customers who had rushed to renew their unlimited contracts in the two weeks before the new policy was expected to take effect. Renewing locked such subscribers into SmarTone for another two years.
One caller complained that he had purchased a HK$398 monthly plan and queued for hours to get a new iPhone 4S that he did not need because he was afraid he would lose unlimited data privileges. His previous contract was not scheduled to end until August.
Lau said the company should follow up on consumer complaints.
A SmarTone spokeswoman said restrictions would apply to unlimited data contracts from now on. Subscribers who used up five gigabytes of data in a month would lose network priority during busy times.
The company has said in the past that clients who signed a deal before Monday would also be subject to a 'fair use' policy, in which the operator network would average out a cell station's resources at peak times.
Complaints received by the Consumer Council last year about telecommunications services, by far the largest category of complaint