Call to end self-regulation in mobile industry

30 Jun 2004

Greater monitoring of the pricing mechanisms used by mobile operators has been called for following revelations of overcharging by Vodafone and O2. Fine Gael’s communications spokesman Simon Coveney TD has called on Communications Minister Dermot Ahern TD to ensure that the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has sufficient powers to punish operators that overcharge customers.

“Vodafone has recently admitted to overcharging 22,000 of its Irish customers between 25 May and 15 June of this year — amounting to a rip off of €150,000. A week earlier O2 admitted that it also overcharged 70,000 of their customers,” Coveney reminded Minister Ahern.

“Between both these incidents the amount in which Irish mobile phone consumers have been ripped off by, in the past three months, is somewhere in the region of €650k. I want to know exactly what ComReg is doing about this and are there other overcharging incidents which we have not heard of?” he added.

Coveney asked that a report due to have been published on the 25 June be put into the public domain.

“Whether or not customers are being reimbursed is not the point. Does the minister not find it unacceptable that more than 100,000 consumers can be overcharged in such a short period of time without the regulator being aware of it? Does he not think that the regulator should have been able to see this error rather than having to depend on O2 and Vodafone coming forward in a voluntary process and admitting they had overcharged their customers in such an exorbitant way?

“ComReg needs to show that it is capable of being a regulator, by monitoring and policing if necessary, particularly when people are using the roaming facility when they are abroad on holidays,” Coveney argued.

He urged Minister Ahern to sit down with ComReg and assess whether or not the regulator has adequate powers, particularly sufficient punishment powers to deal with the companies involved.

“If ComReg feels that they need more powers they need to say it, with the minister then immediately providing them with these powers and instilling confidence in the public by ensuring that this will not happen again.

“Self-regulation within the mobile phone industry is not acceptable. The purpose of a regulator must be to protect the consumer. ComReg has not done that with regard to overcharging and if it wasn’t for the companies involved coming forward in a voluntary way we still wouldn’t know about this error,” he concluded.

By John Kennedy