Deceptive Internet advertisements | Inquirer Business
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Deceptive Internet advertisements

/ 01:06 AM September 29, 2014

In the wake of numerous complaints about the poor quality of Internet service in the country, the Department of Justice (DOJ), through its Office for Competition, issued last week an advisory on advertisements for this modern day technological wonder.

Fittingly, the advisory started with a definition of terms: “Internet service is mainly offered through fixed broadband or mobile data connection.

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“Fixed broadband Internet can be transmitted using either landline (via DSL, cable or fiber optic) or wireless (via WiFI router, WLAN, or satellite. On the other hand, mobile data connection is a value added feature bundled with the cellular services using 3G or 4G signals.”

By way of background, 3G (or third generation) and 4G (or fourth generation) signals refer to the speeds of mobile connection in smartphones, with the latter being able to provide a variety of Internet services faster and with better quality.

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The advisory called the attention of Internet service providers (ISP) to the Consumer Act (Republic Act No. 7394) which, among others, prohibits the use of false, deceptive and misleading advertisement to induce or, likely to induce, directly or indirectly, the purchase of consumer products or services.

Misleading

The DOJ cited the practice of ISPs to indicate only the maximum speed for downlink/uplink (or receiving or sending signals) connection in their advertisements and other promotional materials.

By indicating only the maximum or optimum connection speed in the advertisement, the customer is unwittingly led to believe this is what he will get if he subscribes to the offered services.

The advisory pointed out that this ploy “enables ISPs to provide an actual connection speed that is slower than what they advertised.

“Such practice thus creates confusion among customers. In reality, subscribers are short-changed because they are not guaranteed fast, consistent and reliable Internet service but pay for a quality of service that is below par.”

The advisory stated that “while it is understood that print and other audiovisual marketing materials are usually kept direct and concise, material information relevant to the decision-making of the would be subscribers must be discernable.”

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Thus, the ISPs were pointedly ordered not to put items in their promotional materials that influence consumers to make choices based on erroneous facts or representations.

Information

In addition, ISPs were taken to task for failure to disclose in their advertisements the Fair Use Policy (or data cap) which means that users who exceed their data limit, say, 1 gigabyte a day or 3 gigabyte a month (whichever comes first) will experience slower Internet connections.

The policy is aimed at giving other Internet users an equal opportunity to access their services or get their money’s worth in their subscription.

Laudable the policy’s objective may be, the problem is, the terms and conditions of this policy are buried in the fine print of the agreement and the users are not fully informed about it in the promotional materials so they can take the proper measures to avoid suffering a slow down during critical times of usage.

According to the DOJ, the failure to broadly ventilate this policy “is an indication of a false, deceptive or misleading advertisement.”

Apparently, the half-truths, misrepresentations and concealment of material facts are not the only sins of commission or omission committed by ISPs in their efforts to increase their customer base.

The advisory called attention to National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Memorandum Order No. 07-07-2011 which requires them to state in their promotional materials (a) the service rates of their offers, (b) the minimum connection speed, and (c) service reliability.

Capabilities

Service reliability “measures the percentage capacity rate of the ISP to provide at least its specified minimum Internet speed per month.”

The NTC order states that “ISPs must provide subscribers with their minimum Internet connection speed of at least 80 percent for a given time.”

If this requirement were strictly followed, an advertisement for a certain service should ideally read: “P900/month for 512 kbps minimum connection speed and 80 percent service reliability, or P1,000.00/month for 512 kbps minimum connection speed and 85 percent service reliability.”

With the essential facts and figures clearly presented, and not tucked elsewhere in the contract using a font that requires a magnifying glass to be able to read, the customer can make an informed judgment on the kind of service he wants to subscribe.

He cannot later complain that he was given an Internet service that takes hours to download data, or conks out when the connection has timed out, or limits his access to certain platforms.

The advisory stressed that the three items earlier mentioned should be included in the ISP’s marketing efforts to ensure the protection of the public from false, deceptive, or misleading promotional materials and, ultimately, to promote the general welfare.

The consumers are reminded of their right to be truthfully informed about the details of Internet or mobile services offers by ISPs.

The advisory also urges the Department of Trade and Industry and NTC to monitor, enforce and, where justified, impose the appropriate sanctions on erring service providers.

These words have a nice ring in them. The problem is, the sound of the ISPs’ cash register has a louder ring so it is doubtful if they will be moved by this advisory.

For comments, please send your e-mail to [email protected]

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