RTR issues amendment to KEM-V, imposes stronger consumer protection provisions on value-added services

Press release dated 18 October 2006

"In May 2004, RTR passed the Communications Parameters, Fees and Value-Added Services Ordinance (KEM-V), which not only governs number administration in Austria, but also defines numerous regulations pertaining to value-added services. In the past, the ordinance has proven its worth in practice, but numerous developments over the last two years – especially those arising from innovative services – have made it necessary to adapt the ordinance in order to enhance consumer protection," comments Georg Serentschy, Managing Director of RTR's Telecommunications Division, on the motivation for the amendment, which will go into effect on November 1, 2006.

In the year and a half, the number of queries and complaints received by RTR's conciliation body regarding value-added text message (SMS) services has increased sharply, now accounting for some 12% of cases at RTR. "In order to combat the misuse which has unfortunately accompanied this booming variety of services, we examined the regulations for value-added services and added more effective consumer protection provisions which better reflect the needs of the market," Serentschy explains.

"In the past, canceling SMS subscriptions was associated with a number of difficulties. Terminating such services frequently depended on the keyword sent when placing the order, or in some cases even on the goodwill of the provider," comments Serentschy on the previous situation.

"STOP" messages for SMS subscription services, plus improved consumer information requirements

Effective January 1, 2007, service providers will be required to enable immediate service termination upon receipt of a "stop" message. When users send a text message with the word "STOP“ (German: Stopp) to the value-added service number from which the subscription service originates, all subscription services offered under that number will have to be terminated immediately. Up to now, the cancellation process – and whether the cancellation of an SMS subscription with a "stop" message is accepted – has been left up to the service provider.

In the case of subscription services where charges of less than EUR 10.00 per month are incurred, the provider is also required to inform the subscriber of the fee per message each time charges reach EUR 10.00 (regardless of the period of time in which the charges are incurred). This fee information must be sent as a text message, and the subscriber must send an affirmative reply in order for the service to continue. If the subscriber does not send an explicit reconfirmation message, the relevant subscription service must be terminated in any case.

SMS chat: Providers can only charge for text messages sent

The new ordinance also contains improved consumer protection provisions with regard to SMS chat services. In the future, providers will only be able to charge for these services on the basis of the text messages sent by the consumer. Text messages sent as replies by the chat partner (service provider) in order to maintain the dialog will no longer involve charges to the recipient. This mainly pertains to messages from the service provider reminding the user to continue chatting.

Clear-cut fee information requirements for voting functions in broadcasting

It was also necessary to supplement the regulations applying to value-added voice services in the (0)901 and (0)931 number ranges, which involve a fixed charge per call and are mainly used for viewer voting functions. "In the past, callers often heard misleading recordings such as "Sorry, you did not get through this time,' which did not clearly indicate that the call was subject to a charge," Serentschy explains. "On the basis of those recordings, many callers believed that the connection had failed, so they tried the number again and again. Their telephone bills were often surprisingly high."

The amendment to the KEM-V now requires services which charge up to EUR 0.70 per call to inform the caller unequivocally that they are being charged for each call. As in the past, services which charge more than EUR 0.70 per call are required to provide callers with recorded fee information free of charge.

International dialer programs: Early warning obligation for operators

Since the KEM-V was issued and its opt-in system for the (0)939 number range was introduced in 2004, dialer services using Austrian telephone numbers have generally no longer been a problem. However, dialer services then gradually migrated to international numbers, thus bringing about a sharp increase in the number of complaints in that area. In principle, value-added services using foreign phone numbers are already prohibited. However, such dialer services are frequently offered without the knowledge of the Austrian operator.

The new regulations require all operators in Austria to inform their customers of the dangers of dialer services and of the available protection mechanisms, to offer the appropriate functions (such as blocking calls to international zones), and to implement the necessary monitoring functions in order to detect the calling behavior usually associated with dialer services. This will enable the operators to provide their customers with an early warning service, if necessary, to block international numbers which are identified as dialer services.

Other new developments

In addition, the assignment of emergency numbers has been adapted to the general system of number assignment in Austria. As a result, emergency numbers will also be assigned by official decision in the future and the issue of who is authorized to use those numbers will be clarified.

The amendment, which goes into effect on November 1, 2006, will also contain minor adaptations in other areas. In particular, it is worth mentioning the new regulations pertaining to the resale of telephone services and the obligatory indication of a domestic authorized recipient when applications for numbers are submitted to RTR.