Most people are unsure about the full details of their contracts with phone and broadband service providers. This can cause problems later on. This section is designed to give advice on entering into an electronic communications contract and outlines some of the most important things you should consider before entering into a contract with a service provider.
This video provides information about Service Providers duty to ensure all contractual information is accessible.
Once you decide to take up a particular phone service, you can enter into a contract with a service provider in one of three ways:
Many companies are now using this method. It involves agreeing to enter a contract over the phone without signing any forms or other documents.
The normal steps are that a sales agent will discuss the service with you and explain the contract. This is your chance to ask as many questions as necessary to help you understand the service. If you agree to enter a contract, the sales agent will transfer you to someone else to verify your agreement.
This form is the traditional way of entering into an agreement. Once you sign it, you are making a binding contract with the service provider. As a result, you must be satisfied that you fully understand it and the service before you sign any forms. If you do sign, the provider should give you information on what to do if you change your mind about the contract.
This is the online version of the traditional authorisation form. You will usually fill it in on the service provider’s website. Once you do, you create a binding agreement, so we recommend that you record the details you enter and what you have signed up to.
As a general rule, certain obligations are set out in law in respect to general contents of a contract. Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users Rights) Regulations S.I. 337 of 2011 specifies that service providers providing connection or access to the public telephone network shall do so in accordance with a contract. It also sets out seven specific areas that must be addressed in such a contract.
As a consumer, you are entitled by law to have a contract. This contract must contain at least:
The actual terms and conditions of a contract are not subject to approval by us and, as such, are a matter of choice for you to decide whether to accept them or not. If you do not accept the terms on offer, do not enter into the contract. If the contract on offer does not cover the items listed above, you should first raise it with your service provider. If you are not satisfied with the service provider’s response, you can then refer the matter to us.
The duration of a contract can range from 12 months to 24 months. If a consumer cancels a contract during the contracted period a service provider may seek early cease/termination charges from a consumer in relation to the monthly cost of the contract for the remainder of the duration of the contract. The 2011 Universal Service Regulations states that authorised service providers (for either landline, mobile, or internet services) may not have consumer contracts that have an initial minimum term longer than 24 months.
A consumer who enters into a distance or off-premises contract, has a right to cancel it during a “cooling-off” period. The period during which consumers can cancel such a contract for goods or services is 14 days from the day the contract is concluded. The day the contract is concluded is when the customer receives their contract from the operator. Please note this does not apply to business consumers or to on-premise contracts (for example in a service provider’s retail outlet/shop). Please note that off- premises contracts must include information on how to cancel your contract. If the consumer is not told of their 14 day cooling off period, the duration of the cancellation period is extended to 12 months, which is to be counted from the day the correct cooling off period should have been notified to the consumer.
An off-premises or distance contract must be provided to the customer in a durable medium and must be legible and in plain intelligible language. A durable medium is defined as any medium, including paper and e-mail which enables the customer to store the information addressed personally to them so that they may access it at a future time. It also must allow for the unchanged reproduction of the stored information.
Where a customer receives a rollover contract or an upgrade to their existing contract, this contract must also be provided to the customer in a durable form and contain all the information necessary regarding their rights.
Your service provider may wish to change the terms and conditions of its service, including changes to the prices it charges.
Service providers are required to notify you of any changes to the contract (a contract covers both price plan and terms and conditions). They must do so by giving 30 days’ notice and advising you of the option to withdraw from contract without penalty.
Consumers who wish to make a complaint regarding misleading sales practice should be advised to lodge a complaint with their service provider and allow 10 working days for the service provider to respond. If a consumer is not satisfied with the response, ComReg can raise the issue with the service provider on a consumer’s behalf.
Most service providers operate a fair usage policy, which will be outlined in the terms and conditions of the service.
Complaints about the advertisement of “unlimited” downloads while operating a fair usage policy should be raised with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) by the consumer.
Complaints about contractual terms and conditions setting out a fair usage policy without specific usage limits can be raised with ComReg by the consumer.
A number of telephone and broadband packages are described as ‘unlimited’. In this context, the word ‘unlimited’ would normally be taken to mean that a consumer, having agreed to pay a set price, may make as many calls or spend as much time online as h/she wishes. However, some service contracts qualify the meaning of ‘unlimited’ by stating that it is subject to an ‘acceptable’ or ‘fair’ level of use by the consumer. This is sometimes referred to as a “fair usage policy”.
We advise you that any contract which sets usage thresholds, or describes what constitutes ‘fair’ or ‘acceptable’ use, should be clear and unambiguous, particularly where the service is described as being ‘unlimited’. Usage thresholds or limits should be clearly set out, as should the manner in which they are updated or amended.
Service providers should have a clear and transparent policy for dealing with customer usage above any set thresholds. The policy should set out the rules for contract termination, including penalties, the charges that shall apply for any use above the threshold/limit, and the policy regarding migration of the customer to other packages, if applicable.
We also advise you to carefully read the terms and conditions of your contracts and to be aware of the particular limits or thresholds that apply before purchasing.
Under EU rules, internet service providers are legally required to include information in consumer contracts relating to:
This information is to be provided in a clear, comprehensible and comprehensive manner. This means that the information provided should be clear and meaningful and should be up to date.
The information provided in consumer’s contracts means that consumers can make an informed choice and can compare what services are on offer from other service providers in such a way as to show the differences and similarities between the offers.
Service providers are also prohibited from prioritising, blocking or slowing down internet traffic related to specific web pages, applications or services, such as Netflix or YouTube, except in specific exceptional circumstances (see further below). This ensures the equal treatment of network traffic, and consumers’ freedom to access and distribute information and content, run applications and use services of their choice.
The exceptional circumstances which allow service providers to treat traffic unequally are limited to the following: to comply with a legal order, or on a temporary basis to ensure network integrity and security, or to manage congestion, provided that equivalent categories of network traffic are treated equally.
You can contact your service provider to find out more about their Net Neutrality policy.
See also the information provided on the BEREC website [opens external link].