Watchdog tightens ISP leash

Watchdog tightens ISP leash

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is turning the screw on ISPs that use misleading tags such as "free" and "unlimited" in advertising campaigns but fail to deliver the goods.

The ACCC is distributing a trade practices publication among ISPs to raise awareness of their rights and responsibilities, and hopefully reduce the number of consumer complaints this sector is generating.

"Competition in Internet service provision is continuing to increase at a rapid pace. With increased competition, there has been a rise in consumer complaints. highlights the areas where consumer protection issues commonly arise, particularly relating to the ISP industry," says acting ACCC chairman Rod Shogren.

"Last year, two new types of product offerings by ISPs emerged -- offers of free Internet connection and products limited by what are commonly termed "acceptable user policies". If offering free Internet connections, ISPs must ensure they comply with the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974. They are still bound even if the product is free," Shogren says.

The ACCC conducted several investigations last year into providers of "free" Internet services. In one case an ISP called for registrations from January 2000 for its free Internet service but, five months later, only 5 per cent of its 300,000 customers had been offered connections. The ACCC ordered the ISP to advise registered customers of a likely connection date.

Shogren also stressed that ISPs should not advertise Internet services as unlimited unless the service is exactly that.

The ACCC has examined several products advertised as being "unlimited" where the service is in fact limited by an acceptable user policy.

As high bandwidth services become more readily available, the ACCC expects the use of misleading policies to increase. However, Shogren warns ISPs that consumers need to have complete information about any limits that may apply to a service.

In addition, the ACCC is conducting random Internet site "sweeps" in conjunction with 70 International Marketing Supervisory Network agencies across 29 countries. The sweep results will be collated and used to educate businesses about best practice in the online environment and to educate consumers about how to evaluate a site before doing business online.

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