Three Hong Kong phone companies have been issued written warnings for trying to poach IDD customers from rivals with misleading advertising campaigns. New World Telecom, EC Telecom and Hong Kong Broadband Network fell afoul of industry rules when they offered cut-price calls to the mainland and overseas for as little as 19 cents a minute. Those rates were unfairly compared with peak rates of $1.99 a minute and upwards offered by PCCW and other major phone companies, the Telecommunications Authority has found after a four-month investigation. All three companies launched newspaper and mail advertising campaigns last year offering flat-rate international direct dialing deals (IDD) with comparison charts showing how much customers could save over equivalent services from PCCW and other competitors. New World Telecom mailed 57,000 leaflets offering a rate of 19 cents a minute for calls to the mainland, Britain, the US and Australia and showing how the rate compared with PCCW charges of $1.99 to $2.99 a minute. However, small-print beneath the comparison table showed the 24-hour flat rate deal was available for only the first 30 minutes of calls and was limited from September 8 to October 12, after which the rates rose to 29 cents a minute. EC Telecom placed newspaper advertisements last September with similar comparison tables showing how its flat rate of 88 cents a minute for IDD calls to Macau, Thailand and Indonesia compared with rates of between $2 and $10.50 charged by PCCW, New World and City Telecom. Hong Kong Broadband Network, meanwhile, posted fliers to selected customers between June and November last year offering a flat rate of 24 cents a minute to the mainland and 27 cents a minute to the US, UK, Canada and Australia. The fliers featured a table comparing prices with PCCW's 0060 service, which indicated it charged $1.99 to $2.59 for the equivalent services. Complaints were lodged over all three advertising campaigns in February and, in newly released findings, the campaigns were found to be 'misleading or deceiving' to customers and in breach of the Telecommunications Ordinance. In each case, the authority ruled, the comparisons used in the advertisements were not a 'like for like' comparison, as they used the peak rate charges of PCCW and other rival companies quoted. Arguments from the phone companies that the comparisons were explained in text below the tables and by the use of asterisks to clarify details of the offer were dismissed. 'Such tables are by their very nature intended to induce or facilitate comparisons between the items listed in them,' the authority said in its ruling on the New World Telecom case. 'Whenever readers are encouraged to make such comparisons, even where differences are highlighted by way of qualifying asterisks and accompanying text, it is difficult to argue that cross-evaluations will not be made and that conclusions will not be drawn about the relative attractiveness of alternate offers.'