Subscribers should have the right to terminate pay-TV services when their favourite programmes or sports tournaments are dropped by their providers, the Consumer Council says.
The terms and conditions of four major pay-TV service providers - Cable TV, Now TV, bbTV and TVB Pay Vision - all state that the providers reserve the right to change programming and that no compensation will be offered for the alteration. Consumers have to pay a penalty to end contracts early.
'Pay-TV service providers secure programmes from third parties, but consumers do not enjoy the freedom to end their subscriptions when there are changes to the programming,' Professor Ron Hui Shu-yuen, vice-chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said yesterday.
The council said the arrangement was highly unfair and had led to a rising number of complaints. The council received 1,844 complaints about pay-TV services last year.
In the first five months of this year, complaints related to contract alteration or termination nearly doubled, to 49, compared with the same period last year. The availability of soccer tournaments and moves among providers were common sources of complaint.
In one case, a man signed a two-year contract with a pay-TV provider that covered several football channels. The channels were cancelled in May last year and the provider offered two other channels as compensation, an arrangement that the subscriber did not agree to.
At the end of 2010, he was told he had renewed the contract for another two years. He went to the council after failing to cancel the renewal.
Another man complained to the council after his favourite programme was shifted to another channel which was not covered in his service plan. He was told to pay extra for the new channel. It contradicted an oral agreement between the man and the provider: the customer had sought confirmation that three particular programmes would be included in the service plan when he renewed the contract. He was allowed to terminate the contract after the council stepped in.
The complaints coincided with a spate of grievances expressed in online forums last year after Now TV lost to Cable TV the rights to broadcast English Premier League soccer. Now TV subscribers who had renewed their contracts in 2009 claimed they needed to pay a penalty if they wanted to terminate their contracts.
A code of practice agreed between telecoms firms and industry watchdog Ofta promises customers of phone companies and internet service providers a cooling-off period of seven days after signing a contract. But the council said this did not apply to pay-TV services.