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Phone subscription complaints on the rise

Consumer complaints about phone subscriptions offered by teleoperators are on the rise. Disappointed customers believe that service providers promise too much – and deliver too little.

Ihmisiä näppäilemässä kännyköitään.
Työvuorolistasta saa helposti todisteen ottamalla kuvan kännykän kameralla. Image: YLE

Why can’t customers change operators, why can’t they opt out of service agreements and why do subscription costs suddenly go up? These are some of the complaints consumer watchdogs face from disgruntled customers. Last year grievances about communications services reached 7,000.

According to Pauli Ståhlberg, chair of the Consumer Disputes Board, consumers’ awareness of their rights is also pushing up the number of complaints coming in.

“Another is the general society-wide phenomenon that people aren’t as hesitant to stand up for their rights,” Ståhlberg added.

Only one-third of disputes with service providers reach the point where they go to the Competition and Consumer Authority. Operator lobbyists admit though that there are far too many grievances.

“Of course there are too many, there’s no denying that. But we have to look at the entire amount proportionally. We are a population of five million with 12 million subscription agreements. When we look at it that way, then we get a different sense of the proportions,” said Reijo Svento, head of the Finnish Federation for Communications and Teleinformatics, FiCom.

Consumer Authority: Read the fine print

Both the consumer watchdog and the operators urge prospective customers to carefully read the fine print in subscription agreements. Disputes often arise when customers feel that advertising has promised one thing and subscription agreements deliver something else entirely.

“Naturally there may be some exaggeration when there is stiff competition, but this is getting better all the time. You will find the right information if you just take the time to read and find out in advance,” Svento advised.

Two of Finland's three largest operators -- DNA and TeliaSonera -- said that they are continuously working on clarifying the information they provide in an effort to prevent future disputes. As far as the consumer protection authority is concerned, that’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s not so much the consumer’s responsibility to be extra careful so as not to commit to a permanent contract when he or she only intended to enter into a short-term agreement,” Ståhlberg noted.

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