In conjunction with national consumer protection authorities, the European Commission has published the results of an EU survey into websites offering telecom services.
The study screened a total of 207 websites offering telecom services, including fixed and mobile phones, internet, audio and video streaming services, and found that some 163 of these websites may be in breach of EU consumer law.
One of the primary concerns is the prominent advertisement of free or discounted packages, which are actually part of bundle offers but which are not clearly labelled as such; the lack of an effective dispute resolution system in the event that a concern is raised; and the ability of some websites to unilaterally change the terms of the contract without notifying or justifying this decision to consumers.
How widespread were these problems?
The study revealed that almost 32% of websites can unilaterally change the terms of a contract without allowing consumers to cancel the contract. Further, one quarter of the websites surveyed did not provide clear information about compensation and refunds in the event that the offered service does not meet the customer’s requirements.
Other problems were even more common, with at least half of the websites offering telecom services that were investigated in the survey advertising free or discounted packages which were actually part of bundles packages, and almost 80% failing to provide a link to the EU’s online dispute resolution platform.
How has the EU responded?
The national authorities which collaborated on the screening will now carry out further investigations into the 163 websites which were found to have irregularities, to determine where improvements need to be made or where legal action may be required.
European Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, Věra Jourová, said that the online services in question are trusted by a large number of consumers, and should earn this trust by acting responsibly. She said: “Consumers use their mobile phone or internet subscriptions every day and should be able to trust these services. This screening confirms, however, that a number of websites selling such services are misleading consumers by advertising fake discounts or not providing the full information necessary to make an informed choice. I expect the false and misleading information to be corrected as soon as possible to ensure the sector fully respects EU consumer rules.”