The Consumer Council yesterday warned broadband Internet users to be wary of misleading sales tactics and poor service after complaints against operators more than doubled last year. Consumer dissatisfaction has risen - from 928 complaints in 2000 to 2,042 last year and 489 for the first three months of this year. The council's publicity and communication committee's vice-chairman, Matthew Ng, said most plans imposed financial penalties to terminate a contract. Mr Ng said the competition for a share of the growing market had resulted in myriad promotional and prepayment sales plans that were often confusing to consumers. He said it was possible that some salespeople did not provide all the contractual information necessary to make an informed decision. 'Consumers are advised to pay particular attention to the terms and conditions of a plan - in what ways will you be bound by it and how will you be penalised if you do not complete it,' Mr Ng said. 'They would also do well to ask friends about their experiences or check the user experiences from some of the online discussion groups.' The broadband Internet market has expanded by 60 per cent in a year, rising from 407,000 users in January last year to 649,000 users this January. According to a council survey of 14 operators, none of the companies stipulates the penalty for terminating a contract early and most ask consumers to sign up for three to 18 months in return for cheaper monthly fees. Some, such as NetFront, even ask for a pre-payment of up to $1,392. Sales tactics include cheap monthly fees, which are usually only valid for the first two to six months provided a minimum 12-month contract is signed. Sometimes the plan includes only a basic charge, but unwitting users are then billed for every minute they are online. Free services and gifts are used to entice people into signing up but often the services are only available at a much later stage, such as the 14th month of the contract, and the gifts are only given out once a consumer has prepaid or signed a binding contract. Penalties for breaking a contract vary. Some operators require customers to pay the remaining service, rental and modem fees. Others ask for payment of the remaining service period, plus a hefty penalty. While the survey found prices were generally on a downward trend, there were considerable variations in average monthly fees, ranging from $148 to $300 for the basic plans (using 50 hours a month). This month's edition of Choice, the council's magazine, lists several complaints. A salesman promised one customer he could terminate his contract after three months. So he signed up and later decided to cancel but discovered he was bound by the contract for 15 months. A Mr Hui's mailbox was over the limit and the following month he was charged a penalty of $5,000. A Ms Cheung was promised a free gift when she signed up but after three months she still had not received the item.