Mon | Sep 25, 2017

OUR to overhaul terms of telecoms customer contracts

Published:Wednesday | September 7, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Albert Gordon, Director General of the Office of Utilities Regulation. The regulatory agency is in the process of recruiting a consultant to overhaul customer contracts in the telecom sector for greater protection of subscribers.

The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) will engage a consultant to review telecommunications contracts in a bid to identify areas that are unfair to customers, and will also develop a penalty system for offending telecoms providers.

As regulator, the OUR intends to oversee the development of guidelines to be used by licensees when drafting their customer contracts.

"These guidelines will seek to limit the ability of licensees to take advantage of the weaker bargaining power of customers in their dealings," the regulator said in its request for proposals.

The consultant will examine existing legislation and international best practice relative to current service level agreements, general terms and conditions of service and other forms of contracts with customers "to determine those conditions that are to be considered unreasonable, unfair and should not be enforceable", the regulator said.

The project is divided into two parts: the development of guidelines related to unfair contract terms and the assessment of customer contracts in the telecoms sector, as well as the development of pecuniary penalty regime for offences against the Telecommunications Act and regulations made under the act.

DIRECTIVES

Overall, the OUR hopes to not only identify contracts which in their current form are unfair, but to also to eventually be able to stipulate which terms and conditions are unreasonable and should not be included in customer contracts.

"Also, to the extent necessary, directives will be issued to licensees to modify or remove clauses from their existing customer contracts that are determined to contain unfair contract terms," the OUR said.

The telecoms law does not provide details on what is considered unreasonable and unfair. That for now is left to the agency's judgement.

The move by the OUR comes in the face of customers complaints against telecom FLOW Jamaica, a provider of broadband, pay TV and mobile services, following disruptions last weekend, with many customers calling for rebates based on the length of time they were without service.

However, under the company's customer contract, rebates are only given if subscribers are without service for at least 72 hours. Service to most of FLOW's customers was restored within a 24-hour period, the company said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com