You are at the supermarket checkout. You hand over your cash, gather your bags and give the receipt a quick once over. The total cost looks a little high, so you inspect each item and find you’ve been charged for milk. However, you know you didn’t buy any milk – of course you didn’t, you are lactose intolerant.
You tell the cashier that you have absolutely no need of milk and demand a refund, but she responds: “This milk is a value-added service and you’re paying for it. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
You’d be mad, right? Well, so are an increasing number of local mobile phone service subscribers who are being forced to pay for “value-added” services that add no value to their plan at all.
Myself, I’m being forced to pay HK$20 to SmarTone every month for a ringtone package – even though my phone is always set to silent mode. A friend is paying HK$36 to 3 every month for a Hollywood movie add-on that’s never been used.
Another pulled 3 up on its HK$39 “WhatsApp Premium Service” because he doesn’t use the messaging app (and with WhatsApp being a free messaging service, with no limit on uploads or downloads, it’s hard to imagine how a payment to 3 might improve it).
In the service’s place, he was offered an NBA package (he is not interested in basketball) and then a KKBOX karaoke service (you can imagine how that went down). Finally, the salesman just shrugged his shoulders and told him to choose one. “Contract policy”, apparently.
Then there are the mandatory costs for “call guard” services (which don’t protect you from most nuisance calls), monthly administration fees and, most galling for many, “tunnel fees” (just try going anywhere in Hong Kong without passing through a tunnel).
And it seems odd that all the service providers are at it. Back in 2000, Hong Kong’s six providers were found to have colluded in a simultaneous HK$20 increase in basic service charges, but only received a slap on the wrist. Perhaps if the Telecommunications Authority had bothered to impose a penalty, Hong Kong’s mobile phone cartel would have thought twice about ripping off their customers again.
Oh well. Anyone need a carton of milk?