LIME in the wrong?
FTC probes into e-billing concerns
The Fair Trading Commission (FTC) is investigating whether a move by telecommunications company LIME to charge just under $5 for printed bills is in breach of its contract with customers or “excessive, unreasonable, discriminatory or predatory”.
The FTC said today that the proposed introduction of the $4.68 charge from January 1, 2015, had raised “numerous concerns” for the commission and the matter was being examined.
A statement signed by Sir Neville Nicholls, chairman of the FTC, said “among the matters to be considered were the implications of the charge as it relates to the price adjustments under the terms and conditions of the Cable & Wireless Price Cap Plan 2012; fair competition, namely the introduction of pricing which may be deemed excessive, unreasonable, discriminatory or predatory; and consumer protection, including the contractual obligations under the Cable & Wireless Residential Terms and Conditions Agreement”.
In section 8.2, page 14 of LIME’s Residential Terms and Conditions, it specifically states: “We have a monthly billing period and we will send you a bill every month.”
The document further states at section 18.3, Page 32: “We will send all bills and notices under this agreement to your address stated in the application. You must tell us immediately about any change in this address. We allow 48 hours for you to receive bills and notices through the post.”
Nicholls said the FTC would “advise of its findings after examination of these and other relevant matters”.
LIME recently announced that it intends to roll out an e-billing programme that would cut operational costs, reduce paper usage, be environmentally friendly and lead to greater efficiencies.
This, the company said, was based on a survey in which about 60 per cent of its customers recorded their preference for e-billing.
In its release, LIME said the changes were not unique to that company, citing other telecoms providers as having instituted a charge “for years”.
“We are only now implementing what is a common practice for others,” LIME said.
When contacted by Barbados TODAY, the company’s corporate communications and public relations manager Marilyn Sealy said she could not give additional information regarding the release, but insisted the FTC was made aware before the notice was sent out.
A telecommunications industry source told Barbados TODAY that LIME had no authority to charge existing clients a fee for paper bills. He explained that this was a built-in cost that the company had to absorb.
“To even send out such a statement is audacious on LIME’s part, given what they have in writing in their terms and conditions . . . . They can run afoul of their own stipulations,” he said, insisting that there was nothing in the 34-page agreement that authorized any charges for paper billing.
While the FTC is looking into the matter, consumer rights advocate Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt has charged that the commission was not carrying out its job adequately, in the interest of consumers, given the time it takes to respond to matters.
In fact, the director general of the Barbados Consumer Research Association said the FTC was “failing miserably to do its job properly”.
“In my view, too much goes on that they should stamp out much earlier than they do, if they ever do. Sometimes the FTC, which receives millions of dollars from the Government each year to run its business, [fails] miserably to do its business properly. I feel that the FTC is failing miserably to properly carry out its function as a fair trading commission,” he said.
“It is put there basically as the public watchdog . . . . I am suggesting in clear language that if the Fair Trading Commission is incapable of carrying out its functions as the public watchdog it should be closed.”