What the regulators say
Given that CWC have been singularly unhelpful until now, many people have turned to the regulators. Three have been involved: the Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). So far there has been variable, but tangible, success.
They have relatively little influence over CWC because they are tightly constrained in what they can do by Act of Parliament. Their own words:
OFTEL has no direct control over the prices your cable company sets for its services. Whilst we must ensure that CWC does not breach any of the conditions in its operating licence, there are no conditions controlling prices in the licences issued to any of the cable companies. In fact BT is the only company providing telephony that has a price control imposed by OFTEL and this is because of its former monopoly status and dominant market position.
Price changes made by your cable company are therefore a contractual matter between the company and its customers. If you have any doubts about your particular contract you could consider seeking independent legal advice, or contacting the Office of Fair Trading.
Additionally, if you feel you have been misled by the manner in which your cable company has advertised its services, or by the way in which the information is presented in the company’s literature, then you should contact the Advertising Standards Authority.
Finally, I am sorry that I have been unable to send you a more positive response, as I appreciate your concern over the introduction of a charge for a service that was formerly free.
Having said that:
OFTEL can be contacted at:
- the investigation into the new billing system, ongoing as of October 1998, is because misbilling is a breach of CWC's operating licence (what they charge is not covered, but that they charge what they charge is);
- at one point, it was proving very difficult to get pricing information out of CWC for the tariff page, so I complained to OFTEL. As resolution of the complaint they directed CWC, at the end of January 1998, to obey their licence conditions by sending a copy [of the tariff] thereof or such part or parts thereof as are appropriate to any person who may request such a copy.
Consumer Representation Section
50 Ludgate Hill
London EC4M 7JJ
The ASA have received a number of complaints about CWC's advertising and marketing material. At the moment there are four complaints which have been ruled on (three handled formally and all three upheld; one handled informally) and at least two others outstanding.
The formal complaints procedure is extremely rigorous, which means that it takes a long time to get through its various stages. For example, my complaint was accepted on 30 January 1998, the preliminary judgement made on 12 April and the final judgement made on 25 April; that judgement was then embargoed (in other words, I was asked not to publish it) until 10 June.
The stages are:
There is more about the ASA rulings here.
- Complaint made
- ASA considers complaint
- Complaint rejected or
- Complaint taken up with advertiser formally or
- Complaint dealt with informally
- Preliminary judgement made
- Both sides comment
- Final judgement made
Again, a number of people have complained to the OFT about the Videotron contract.
The OFT are now sending out a very interesting standard letter which reads, in part:
We advised Videotron that certain terms in its consumer contracts (including a number of widely drawn variation clauses) had potential for unfairness. Subsequently we have continued our discussions with CWC. Our objective is to seek to prevent the continued use of any unfair terms in future contracts, rather than to take up complaints on behalf of individuals which we cannot do ...
... Terms which are unfair under the Regulations are not binding on the consumer. Consumers also have rights under other legislation. The legal position for practical purposes depends very much on the circumstances of each case. Court proceedings could well be involved, so it is essential to seek legal advice on whether and how to go about challenging an unfair term. The effect of the legal protection in this area would be to enable you not to comply with demands made by such a term, or to get compensation which would otherwise be denied you.
The points made here are discussed more fully elsewhere.
Text by Alastair Scott
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