When you're faced with a shiny new mobile phone or great sounding deal, the last thing you want to do is spend time checking over the details — but doing your research is still the best way to ensure you don't get ripped off, as a recent decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) demonstrates.
The ACCC this week announced that it had accepted enforceable undertakings from TPG Internet to not advertise phone plans as supporting "unlimited" calls when in fact that were subject to a range of restrictions. TPG's advertisements claimed that paying $59.99 a month would allow "unlimited" calls and text, which raised the ACCC's on two fronts. Firstly, several call types were excluded from the plan, including 1300, international and directory assistance calls. Secondly, the minimum cost was in fact higher once SIM charges were factored in.
It makes sense that phone companies won't include expensive options like international calls in all-you-can-eat plans. However, if that's the case, then using the word "unlimited" is asking for trouble.
"Companies advertising mobile phone plans should be particularly cautious when using absolute terms such as 'unlimited' for plans to which some limits do apply," ACCC chair Graeme Samuel proclaimed. "To avoid misleading consumers, any qualifications of an offer of 'unlimited' calls or text must be prominently stated and not so significant that they negate the headline message."
Of course, consumers have to take some responsibility as well. The release of the iPhone last year led to the remarkable phenomenon of people signing up to purchase the phone without having any idea what contract conditions would ultimately be imposed. If you fall into that category, you can hardly complain if the final deal isn't to your liking.
It might be buried in small print, but almost any phone plan will include a total minimum cost over the life of the contract. Check that figure before you commit, and use it — not the basic per-month price for services — as the basis for comparison. Telcos often display prices in odd ways. The site for the recently released HTC Dream from Optus, for instance, lists call costs and handset costs separately. However, the total figure is there if you look hard enough.
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