Advertisements for phone services are often rife with fine-print details and sneaky conditions, but new regulations should curb the worst excesses.
The ACCC earlier this week announced that it had signed deals with the three national network providers — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone/3 — to stop the use of deceptive terminology in those advertisements. In simple terms, that means that dubious advertisements promising cheap rates but not, for instance, pointing out these only apply between midnight and 7am, or only doing so in tiny print, won't be allowed:
If you're in the market for a new phone or service, then it's always sensible to look closely at the terms and conditions associated with any deal. However, there's no doubt that the way in which deals are promoted doesn't always make that an easy task.
According to the ACCC, there are 12 common types of misleading conduct in telephone service advertising:
- Deceptive 'headline prices' which are so rife with associated terms and conditions that few consumers would be able to access them;
- The use of the term 'unlimited' on offers which have restrictions;
- The use of the term 'no exceptions' on offers which do have some restrictions;
- The use of 'free' to describe the cost of a phone, when in fact the monthly contract charges are designed to recover that cost;
- Advertising a price per minute that doesn't take into account flag falls and other charges;
- Advertising a price which is only available as part of an overall bundle;
- Prices for phone plans which don't apply to typical usage or call types;
- Advertising data allowances which only run for a limited period;
- Promoting phone card rates which would only be available if a single continuous call was made;
- Promoting broadband speeds that are a maximum theoretical speed rather than a realistic assessment of what is available;
- Inaccurate claims about network coverage;
- Failure to include the total price of a particular deal.
In truth, that list collectively sounds like nearly every phone and broadband advertisement I've ever seen, but it will be great to see the back of them. The agreement is a legal undertaking, so if anyone runs an advertisement (or other promotional material) that ignores it, they face a potentially hefty fine. The three companies account for around 90% of the local market, so the ACCC is anticipating the impact will be significant. (The undertaking runs for two years.)
The regulator has been having a busy year cracking down on dodgy advertisers, having raised the issue of rubbish phone advertising back in February and commenced a crackdown on dodgy SMS providers.
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