As landline networks decline, care must be taken to protect especially the most vulnerable consumer groups. The Finnish Consumer Agency submitted a statement to the Ministry of Transport and Communications on a report issued by TeliaSonera.
TeliaSonera has announced that it will begin to dismantle the costly network of landline phones. Harri Pursiainen, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, compiled a report on the matter that sets 12 conditions for ending landline service. TeliaSonera submitted its own report to the Ministry at the beginning of the year.
Fair pricing requires monitoring
Phone service is an essential service that must be offered to every citizen at a reasonable cost and must function perfectly. This requirement is met through regulation governing public services, which is supervised by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority.
TeliaSonera states in its report that it aims to provide services to customers as cost-effectively as possible. It must be kept in mind, however, that public services may sometimes have to be offered at a loss to the company. The company also promises compensation for customers, but does not state how it will be paid. If payment is linked to customer services as a monthly credit for call time over an extended period, for example, it would be unfair to the elderly.
Phone coverage must reach every part of the home
One of the conditions presented to TeliaSonera was that a mobile phone call must be possible in buildings of normal construction and in all indoor areas without additional equipment obtained at the user's expense. The company's stance had been that a mobile phone should be operational in at least one spot in a home. The Consumer Agency's point of view is that a consumer should be able to make a call at no additional expense without having to stay in a particular spot in the home. Otherwise, the situation could become intolerable for some special groups, such as people with limited mobility.
If reception has to be improved using an external antenna, it is important for TeliaSonera to fulfil its obligation to pay for the antenna and its installation.
Concern for special groups
The goal for special groups is on the right track: TeliaSonera has initiated a separate project to account for all special services in the areas concerned. Some aspects remain unclear, however, such as how to compensate special groups for devices like safety phones that may not be used. People who need special services often have small incomes. From their point of view, it is critical to know how expenses such as several hundred euro for a safety phone will be taken care of. If a consumer incurs additional expenses from purchases considered justifiable, payment schedule flexibility should be offered.
The company must ensure that special groups are also able to use the new devices and the services made possible by them. Maintaining service levels for special groups at a time of technological upheaval is central to communications policy and the ideology of public services.
Compensation for an old handset
The conditions state that TeliaSonera must compensate consumers for devices that will become obsolete as the change takes place. The company supplied many of its customers with a basic phone at one time, so compensation need not be paid for those. If a customer has purchased a new conventional phone, however, the company will offer a GSM dock that makes its continued use possible, or 20 euro of free calling time as part of a new phone contract. The standard compensation is problematic at this point, however, since it does not take the service life of the device into account. For example, if a consumer bought a new phone just a few months previously, its expected service life is longer and its value is more than that of a phone already several years old.
It would also be reasonable to expect compensation for an obsolete device used in a holiday home, since an increasing amount of time is spent in such homes.
Backsliding from basic level of broadband service not permissible
TeliaSonera promises that broadband services are offered at the rated speed of 1 MB/s. Rated speed, however, refers to a value that may fluctuate. The Consumer Agency has received many complaints from consumers who thought the promised speed was guaranteed and found out it was only the theoretical maximum speed. In this case, care must be taken to ensure that the speed really is in the 1 MB/s range, not consistently beneath it.