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SmarTone in the dock again after tariff U-turn

Mobile biz confuses customers

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Under fire Hong Kong mobile operator SmarTone has come in for criticism yet again over its handling of new regulations introduced on Monday which were designed to encourage greater transparency for users.

The firm, a long standing partner of Vodafone’s in the region until recently, sparked user fury last week after it decided to ditch its unlimited tariff and replace it with a 2GB package. Protestors apparently gathered outside the firm’s store in the Mong Kok district of Kowloon to tut and shake their fists.

However, SmarTone later announced that, like its competitors, CSL and 3 Hong Kong, it had decided to stick with its own ‘unlimited tariffs’.

Like them, it released updated info saying that users would be given a fair usage cap of 5GB after which point they would be subject to a network access management policy which could impair data intensive applications such as high volume peer-to-peer services.

The new regulations from OFTA force any operators offering an unlimited service to ensure they have the network capacity to do so, and to be clearer about any other limitations on service.

Watchdog the Consumer Council of Hong Kong has now reportedly received three complaints and scores of enquiries from confused SmarTone customers apparently trying to reconcile conflicting information from the operator.

"It's hard to establish that the consumers were misled," watchdog chief executive Connie Yin-hing Lau told the South China Morning Post. "But the company did not have consumers' interests at heart."

Apparently some customers felt that they were conned into renewing their existing unlimited contracts before the new regulations came in, locking them in for another 24 months.

For a communications company, SmarTone’s media relations team are frustratingly difficult to track down. However, The Standard managed to find a spokeswoman, who told the Hong Kong newspaper that there were no plans to offer disgruntled customers any compensation.

Those who renewed their ‘unlimited’ contracts before Monday may not be subject to network access restrictions, she reportedly added.

The Consumer Council has urged SmarTone to follow up on any complaints.

In general, mobile operators in Hong Kong appear to have been getting better at customer relations.

According to stats on the Consumer Council website, complaints about telecoms services dropped from a whopping 9,054 in 2010, to 7,233 last year.

It still remains the most complained about category by far, however, with telecommunications equipment a distant second. ®

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