Consumer protection in communication services to improve on 1 July 2015

The Information Society Code, under which the main provisions concerning electronic communications and the provision of information society services have been codified, entered principally into force at the beginning of 2015. The changes applying to consumer protection enter into force, however on 1 July 2015. Among the most important of these is the provision concerning the joint responsibility of the telecommunications operator and retailer or service provider.

The objective of the Information Society Code is to ensure that everyone across Finland has access to secure, easy-to-use communications services at an affordable price on reasonable terms and conditions. The Information Society Code improves the consumer´s position, for example, by means of regulation concerning the joint responsibility of telecommunications operators. The new regulation also clarifies the consumer´s position, particularly in the case of defective services.

Operators to have responsibility comparable to credit card companies

A key regulation improving the consumer´s position is the regulation on the joint responsibility of the telecommunications operator and retailer or service provider. After mobile phones evolve into credit card-like means of payment, the position of the consumer must not differ depending on the method of payment. Liability regulation also promotes consumer trust in mobile payment.

The new regulation will apply to situations in which consumers use their mobile phones to pay for goods and services and the payment is added to their telephone bills. If the paid purchase or subscription is defective, the consumer is entitled to withhold payment or claim a refund from the retailer or service provider and also from the operator.

Consumer rights in the case of defective services

It is important for consumers to know their rights in the case of defective communications services. The Information Society Code has endeavoured to clarify the means that subscribers have at their disposal in the event of a defective telephone or broadband service.

A communications service is considered to be defective if its quality fails to live up to what was agreed or does not match the information provided in marketing. Typical defects include service interruptions and connection speeds that are slower than promised. Interruptions that are occasional and short-term in nature are not considered to be defects; rather the interruptions must be continuous or recurrent. A service is not deemed to be defective, if the telecommunications operator temporarily interrupts the communications service or limits its use for a total of not more than 24 hours per month, if the measure is necessary due to construction or maintenance work, and the telecommunications operator informs consumers of the interruption in advance.

In the case of a defect, the consumer is always entitled to a discount which is at a minimum proportionate to the defect. If the defect is based on a service interruption, the consumer is entitled to a standard refund. If the interruption is, however, due to a force majeure, the consumer is not entitled to a standard refund but may request a price discount. If, however, there is a delay in delivery, the consumer is entitled to a standard compensation. The amount of the standard compensation and standard refund is a minimum of EUR 20 for each beginning week of delay and a maximum of EUR 160.

Clear and understandable agreement terms

The new provisions of the Information Society Code require that the terms and conditions for communications services must be written in clear and understandable language.  Furthermore, it may be necessary to provide consumers with additional information, for example about the meaning of a specific contract term, so as to ensure unambiguous and understandable agreements.

According to the new regulation, the consumer also always has the right to set a usage limit for a subscription without charge. A usage limit is one way for consumers to protect themselves against risks and excessively large bills. Other methods include call blocking services or a commercial balance limit provided by operators.

Read more:

Information Society Code: consumer protection (Ministry of Transport and Communications 2015)

Consumer Ombudsman and FiCom negotiate general contract terms for telecom companies (FCCA´s press release, 28 May 2015)