Dispute resolution cases double in 2004: RTR handled over 4,700 dispute resolution procedures

Number of dialer cases continued to climb in 2004 - Decreases expected in 2005 - 30% of complaints concerned value-added services offered by atms - Complaints about value-added text messages (SMS) rising sharply

Press release dated 18 April 2005

2004 was an extraordinary year in qualitative and quantitative terms for RTR's conciliation body, which was set up for the purpose of resolving end-consumer disputes. "In the year 2004, we recorded more than 4,700 dispute resolution cases, up from "only" 2,200 or so in 2003; this points to an increase of more than 100%,“ summarized Georg Serentschy, RTR's Managing Director for the Telecommunications Division, at the presentation of the conciliation body's activity report for 2004.

Number of dialer cases continued to climb in 2004 – Decreases expected in 2005

The sharp increase in the number of complaints and objections to invoices can largely be attributed to unfair practices on the part of value-added service providers, new services in the telecommunications field (e.g. value-added text messages), and people's increasing awareness of the conciliation body. A large share of complaints – some 40% – were related to dialer programs. This was also the case in previous years. "This upward trend in dialer programs will not continue in 2005,“ notes Serentschy. "One positive development is that we saw a decrease in complaints regarding dialer programs in the first quarter of 2005. This can be attributed to the fact that the consumer protection provisions in the Communications Parameters, Fees and Value-Added Service Ordinance are starting to take effect.“ According to the ordinance, dialer programs can only be offered in the (0)939 number range, which customers have to activate (i.e., opt in) explicitly with their operators.

Another focus of dispute resolution activities was ADSL products, which accounted for about 5% of cases; in this context, most complaints were lodged by customers who had exceeded their data transfer limits. "With regard to ADSL products, it would be in the consumers' interest to ensure more transparent product descriptions with regard to download and upload volumes, or to employ more fair-use or flat-rate policies,“ said Serentschy in an appeal to the operators. "This could reduce the number of complaints and inquiries in this field.“

30% of complaints concerned value-added services offered by atms

1,500 complaints – approximately 30% of the total – concerned value-added services offered by the service network operator "atms Telefon- und Marketing Services GmbH" (atms). The company often asserted its claims against retail customers in the form of "final payment reminders" which threatened to pass the invoices on to collection agencies. Once the customers involved RTR in these disputes, atms generally waived its claims as a gesture of goodwill.

Complaints about value-added text messages (SMS) rising sharply

A sharp increase in the number of complaints about value-added text message services was also recorded in 2004. The inquiries were mostly related to cell phone logo and ring tone subscriptions which were either not ordered or could not be canceled. Many cases involved children (and thus their parents/guardians). There were also more inquiries about numbers involving event-based charges, in which a fixed, one-time fee is collected for each connection (up to a maximum of EUR 10.00 per connection). Event-based services are used especially in voting services and television contests, in which the potential prizes often seduce users into calling the telephone number repeatedly by using the redial button. In such cases, the telephone bills were often very high, as the fee is charged for each call even if the caller is not connected to the show's host or if the caller hangs up immediately upon hearing a recorded message.