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Hong Kongers protest over end to all-you-can-eat tariffs

SmarTone on the receiving end of user fury

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Hong Kong dwellers have staged a mini-protest outside one of the stores of SmarTone against the cellco's response to new rules from the local regulator which will force all network operators to scrap unlimited data tariffs.

Local newspaper The Standard reported that the group of angry customers gathered outside a SmarTone store in the gloriously named Mong Kok district of Kowloon to protest the changes, which are due to come into effect on 13 February.

Although all operators are in the same boat and are restructuring their price plans as a result of the forthcoming rules, protesters were apparently aggrieved that SmarTone is going "too far" by cutting its unlimited package down to 2GB per month.

"Youngsters who love to invent applications will be badly hit by this new policy as customers will now think twice before downloading an application," Lau Kwok-fan, vice chairman of the Federation of New Territories Youth, told The Standard.

SmarTone released a canned statement claiming that its new “User Pays” tariff is “fair, reasonable and transparent”.

The new data allowance of 2GB is generous and will mean no additional charges for 85% of all existing data customers on the basis of current usage patterns. Importantly, all existing contracts and those entered before 13 February 2012 will continue to be honoured in full.

In meeting the challenges of continuing rise in usage and general cost inflation, ‘User Pays’ data charging is the fairest approach for all customers, and promotes greater network investment for both increasing usage and quality.

The alternative of raising prices for everyone, irrespective of usage levels, is patently unfair and is not in the best interest of the majority of customers. ‘User Pays’ data charging principle is a worldwide trend as the investment community demands an adequate return on network investment by mobile operators.

The controversial changes were announced by Hong Kong regulator the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) in November in a bid to “enhance the transparency of service information to facilitate better informed consumer choices”.

Basically, it was getting sick of mobile customers complaints that their so-called unlimited data plans were actually subject to a fair usage policy.

While the guidelines do not explicitly ban unlimited data plans, they mandate that any operator offering such deals cannot then limit them with a fair usage policy.

“Service providers offering unlimited plans without qualifications must ensure that their networks are equipped with sufficient capacity so that they are truly capable of providing unlimited services to the relevant customers,” said an OFTA spokesperson.

“Otherwise, they may risk contravening the guidelines and section 7M of the Telecommunications Ordinance, which prohibits licensees from engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct in providing telecommunications services.” ®

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