Consumers Oblivious To The Fine Prints In Telco Agreements

By Sakini Mohd Said

CYBERJAYA (Bernama) -- "Why do I have to pay when I have not used the Telco services? In fact, the SIM card is still in its original plastic wrapping and hardly touched".

Priya, 31, (not her real name) said this to Bernama recently in a raised tone on her disappointment over a telecommunication service provider that she felt had shortchanged her.

She signed up for the postpaid service with the operator as requested by her employer, but this private sector employee never used the services knowing of the operator's limited coverage and the slow internet connection.

Priya believed that as she did not use the line there is no reason for her to pay for anything like assured by the service provider's agent. Hence, she did not pay the monthly bills that started coming much to her surprise.

However, she was at a loss when the service provider sent a lawyer's letter demanding the outstanding amount of over RM600 to be settled or else be blacklisted.

The outraged Priya had no choice but to settle the outstanding amount.

NEVER FORGET THE FINE PRINTS

Priya is one of the many Malaysians who have ended up or will be ending up in a similar predicament for being oblivious to the fine prints stated in the contracts or agreements with telecommunication service providers.

"Many remain unaware on what they have signed. Often subscribers do not go through the finer points on the terms and conditions and end up being disappointed.

"Consumers consider that they have been wrongfully billed but when in fact the charges have been listed in the fine prints of the contract.

"Anyone who signs a contract with a service provider will have to pay the monthly charges for the duration of the contract even if the services are not used," said Ahmad Izham Khairuddin the director of Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia(CFM).

Unlike the prepaid line where the subscriber tops up with the required amount and does not have to pay anything when the line is no longer used, postpaid comes with some obligations. Among the obligations are monthly payments of the service charge and penalty if one ceases using the service within the contract period.

Hence, it is only wise that postpaid subscribers be aware of their obligations like stated in the contract that they had signed. Once signed there is no U-turns available.

MISLEADING SALES PITCH

However, for Ahmad Izham the woes is not limited to telecommunication post paid customers only. The problem transcends across much of the communication and multimedia services in the country, right from broadband subscription, pre paid television and handphone/gadget purchase packages.

With a slew of promotional packages now available for the above services from all service providers, customers are spoilt for choice.

Some offer handphones at rock bottom prices, some woo subscribers with low monthly charges or bigger data capacity at special prices.

While the highly competitive market has benefited the consumers but there is often a catch in the contracts that may leave the consumers in the losing end.

"Much of our consumers get excited easily or easily fall for gimmicks like its cheap or free. Without asking much, they just make a purchase.

"One cannot solely depend on the explanation provided by the sales people. Some of them fail to elucidate clearly to the customer on the terms and conditions.

"Hence, that is why CFM constantly reminds consumers to be careful with the offers or promotions by service providers that appear too good to be true," he said.

WHAT IS CFM'S ROLE

For dissatisfied consumers or those who feel shortchanged as the services provided were not up to expectation, they should first take their grouses to the respective service provider.

When the complaint is not looked into or the consumer is unsatisfied with the solution provided by the service provider, the consumer could take up the matter with CFM.

However, many consumers are in the dark over CFM that could serve as an effective platform in helping them to find a solution for their woes. The complaints received by CFM is not only limited to broadband services but also others related to the communication and multimedia industry like the internet, paid television and radio.

"Before CFM comes into the picture over any consumer grouses, the service provider must be given the opportunity beforehand to solve the problem. We cannot accept or process any of the grouses that has yet to pass this step.

"The service provider has 15 working days to reply the complainant. Failure to do so or if the solution provided is inadequate, the complainant then could take up the matter with CFM," said Ahmad Izham.

A total of 7,326 complaints were received by CFM from Jan 2015 to Dec 2015, an increase of 6.11 percent compared with 6,904 in 2014.

More than 97 percent of the complaints have been addressed by CFM in 2015, while the rest were settled on the first half of 2016.

"Among the complaints that we received include disputed or wrong billing, overcharge, calls barred, no or poor coverage, slow internet speed, could not receive SMS and etc," he said.

GO TO MCMC

CFM is an independent body, so its decision may either favour the consumers or the service providers. Its decisions are based on the facts available and the benchmark set by the General Consumer Code of Practice for the communication and multimedia industry.

"CFM serves as the intermediary between the complainant and the respective service providers. The advantage that CFM has is that it has direct access to the service provider.

"If CFM takes up the matter, the service providers have to answer. If they fail to do so we can take them to MCMC," he said.

One should also note that apart from addressing consumer woes CFM is also entrusted to prepare the Consumer Code that serves as the guideline in helping service providers prepare and roll out communications and multimedia services.

CREATING AWARENESS

Apart from that, CFM also works to improve on the community awareness and knowledge on communications and multimedia. This includes the Critical Information Summary (CIS) that is being planned for service providers.

"CIS is the summary of terms and conditions signed by the consumers without knowing what they really are hence ending up paying higher service charges.

"CIS will provide clearer information on products, plans and services that will enable consumers make easy comparisons on the products and services offered including the terms and conditions," he said.

The CIS is expected to be introduced by mid 2017.

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SIDE BAR

CFM IS HERE TO HELP COMMUNICATION CONSUMERS

Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia(CFM) is an independent organisation established in Feb 2001 by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

It serves as the forum to protect the rights of the consumers and facilitates self regulation of the industry through the participation of service providers and consumer associations.

So far it has 47 members with 21 of them being consumer associations, among them Malaysian Consumer and Family Economics Association (MACFEA), Malaysia Handphone Owners Association (Perbit) and the Kuala Terengganu District Consumer Association (PPDKT).

Among the service providers registered with CFM are Altel Communications Sdn Bhd, Astro Radio Sdn Bhd, Celcom Axiata Berhad, Maxis Mobile Services Sdn Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Berhad.

"The cooperation with consumer associations are highly useful as our access to the consumers at the grassroots are limited. These associations will assist in channeling grievances from areas where CFM has no access," said its director Ahmad Izham Khairuddin.

Apart from that, CFM also has its own channels for the consumers to relay their complaints like its complaints portal CFM (CoP) www.complaint.cfm.org.my, email aduan@cfm.org.my, hotline 1-800-18-2222 and the latest My Mobile Rights application that can be downloaded through smartphones.

BERNAMA