ComReg: forcing up e-billing is a change of contract and a breach of statutory regulations

Hail, hail ComReg! The Irish ComReg (Commission for Communications Regulation) quite probably is at the forefront of consumer protection when it comes to e-billing adoption. In this case communications provider EirCom began changing customers to e-billing. Even though EirCom notified the affected customers on three separate occasions, under ComReg rules EirCom should have given its customers the chance to reject or opt out of it.

ComReg stated that the implementation of the online billing represented a change to the customers’ contracts, and that EirCom had not complied with its statutory obligations by the Universal Service Regulations to notify customers of such modifications.

The facts

Eircom began changing about 207,000 Meteor and eMobile customers, a portion of its mobile customer base, to a new electronic billing method from August 12th, a move that had been criticised by consumer groups when the plan first emerged.

Those affected are subscribers who currently receive bills monthly and have also signed up to the online portal of either Meteor or eMobile, which allows customers to view and pay bills online, and to track usage.

The affected customers were notified on three separate occasions of the plan – twice through text messages sent to their phone and once via a message on their paper bill.

The ComReg view on e-billing

ComReg said the implementation of the online billing represented a change to the customers’ contracts, and the company had not complied with its statutory obligations to notify customers of such modifications. More precisely, EirCom should have given customers the chance to reject the changes to the contract, or opt out of it:

“Specifically, in accordance with Regulation 14(4) of the Universal Service Regulations, Meteor is required to notify subscribers of proposed modifications to contractual conditions and to advise subscribers of their right to withdraw without penalty from the contract if they do not accept the proposed change,”

Also, the Universal Service Regulations force EirCom (and other providers) to allow subscribers to withdraw from the contract a month from the date of notification if they do not wish to accept the changes to the agreement.

The company has been given three weeks to answer ComReg’s breach notice or face enforcement action.

The EirCom view

Eircom said the company viewed the change as a “clarification of terms and conditions”:

“We are disappointed that this initiative, which is aligned with Ireland’s online and ecommerce agenda and our own cost reduction agenda, is the subject of breach notice. We will be considering our position.”

About 26,000 customers are believed to have opted to retain their paper bill, about 13 per cent of those affected.


What can we learn from ComReg? First of all we have to remind ourselves that this is happening in Ireland alone. However the regulations that ComReg is referring to, are heavily inspired by EU regulations. Therefore any European Communications Regulation authority could take up this instrument to enforce consumer protection. It also a quick reminder how e-billing affects your customers and that the effectiveness of your on-boarding is influenced by the ‘public opinion’ of your customers. Not taking that into account sets you back. Taking it into account makes you a winner.


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