Complaint made against internet provider iHug upheld

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Friday, September 22, 2006

A complaint made against Internet service provider (ISP) iHug by M. McNatty has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). McNatty complained that he was not told of the special conditions of banner adverts he saw on the iHug website.

McNatty said: "I signed up [to iHug] but discovered I had shot over my limit and iHUG had reduced my download speed from 100 to 64kps. I rang iHUG and they explained that I had gone over my 1 GB traffic allotment by 230%. I explained I was on the 3 GB plan and they went on to tell me that 2 of the 3GB can only be used between the hours of 2 a.m. and 10 a.m." He then went on to talk to the manager of iHug but was told there was nothing he could do so he asked to be upgraded to the more expensive option of the 15 GB plan.

iHug replied to the complaint by saying: "It appears that M. McNatty has briefly looked at the front page of our broadband section without either reading down the page to the what you get section or clicking on the info or join now links on our website. If he had, he would have found information about the peak and off-peak split of data allowances. He has then rung the iHug call centre, where our call centre personnel have been instructed to inform customers of the details of data allowances because many customers don't understand how much data they will need. If the customer service representative has failed to explain how the data allowances work then that is a mistake on our part, for which I am sincerely apologetic. iHug has taken steps to resolve this by stressing to Customer Service Managers that they must remind their teams to fully explain data allowances during the sign up call."

iHug then went on to apologize to McNatty if felt he had been misled but said: "I think it is unreasonable for M. McNatty to expect all information pertaining to a broadband application to be contained in detail on a small banner advert which is clearly design to capture interest only and lead the customer to further information."

The ASA complaint board then reviewed the advertisement and noted that the advertisement clearly identified that information related to the offer was available on other pages and that a customer would most likely know that plans varied and would ask for clarification before subscribing.

But then said, referring to the 3 GB plan advertisement; "However, nowhere in the main offer or the immediate conditions headed, "ihug broadband – what you get", did it inform the consumer that 2 of the 3 GB could only be used between the hours of 2 a.m. and 10 a.m., one third being peak user time, two thirds being off-peak user time. This, in the Complaints Board's view, significantly diminished the offer of '3 GB data', to the extent that the offer could be considered to be 'exaggerated'. As such the Complaints Board said that it would be likely to mislead the consumer."

They also noted that the wording "generous peak download allowance" was a hyperbole and overstated the product offered, which amounted to misleading the customer.

The Complaints Board said: "A website advertisement was not limited by a time constraint such as a television advertisement, or restricted by space available, and thereby there was no apparent reason why this paramount condition could not be more obvious in relation to the offer."

The complaints board then said that if special condition reduced the offer in value then those conditions need to be obvious. They noted that the ad does say conditions do apply. "However, as the condition in this instance diminished the offer in a major way, the Complaints Board was unanimously of the view, that it should have been disclosed in an obvious manner, as part of the initial offer or in close proximity to it," said the complaints board.

The board then noted that the advertisement was in violation of the second rule in the Code of Ethics which states "Truthful Presentation - Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge. (Obvious hyperbole, identifiable as such, is not considered to be misleading)." The board did uphold the complaint.

Sources

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