Monday, December 31, 2007

It's expensive to talk in Ireland!

Comreg (this is the state body that regulates the communication sector)published a report last this week which showed that Irish consumers generate significantly higher revenue per month compared to consumers across the EU. This report shows that the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) for mobile phones per month was €44.66 in Ireland. The revenues per user here are way ahead of those in other EU countries, the next is France where the ARPU is €34.33 and the lowest is Germany at €19.15. The EU average is €27 per month.

Claims by the mobile phone industry that Irish consumers pay more because we use and speak more are unfounded on the basis that the French speak more but pay a lot less. We are supposed to have competition with 4 providers now, but it seems that once again the Irish consumer is considered easy picking for companies who it appears charge a lot less in other jurisdictions. I would have thought also that increase penetration, there are now 4.9million mobiles in circulation and with new technology costs should be coming down a lot more. In the January 2006 edition of Consumer Choice it was noted that only 39% of consumers felt they were getting value for money from their mobile network. I am sure not much has changed.

In my capacity as Chair of CAI, I called on Comreg to call in the mobile phone operators and insist on a plan of action to reduce costs to consumers. There is a precedent here in that earlier this year the EU Commission threatened to impose price caps unless mobile phone operators starting reducing the cost of roaming. This is an issue CAI will be following up with Comreg and the Government.

Friday, December 21, 2007

For the record!!!!

I am sure many of you like me have spent many a long hour on so-called customer care lines. Some are better than others, but you usually hear at some stage "that this call may be recorded for quality or training purposes" After a rather testing time with a phone company where I got 3 or 4 different stories over the space of a few weeks I was sorry that I hadn't recorded all my telephone conversations with them!!!

That got me thinking, in fact I can, just Google and there are several devices which will record telephone conversations. Also came across this service in the United States. This article appears to indicate that legally such conversations are admissible in Ireland, although I plan to check it out a little further, but interesting information here all the same. I am not sure what the reaction of service providers would be, but in the United States they don't like it, it seems some companies reps hang up when told by the consumer that they too are recording the call for "quality" purposes.

Given the misleading and often contradictory information often given out by phone, recorded calls could be a great source of backup for consumers seeking redress when things go wrong. Imagine being able to play back the tape of a conversation in a hearing of the small claims court to back up your claim!!!

Here is an example of a consumer recording of a series of phonecalls with a debt collection agency from the US

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A New Job and New Blog!

Hi all, on November 27th last I was elected Chairman of the Consumers's Association of Ireland (CAI). Big task, but I am really looking forward to it. Have a look at our website if you want a bit more information about CAI or want to join, all new members welcome. I am hoping to blog regularly on consumer issues in Ireland from my own perspective. While I am chair of the CAI, the comments and views expressed here will be my own.

Perhaps you are wondering what the hell is a "consumerist". Well it is short hand for "consumer activist". I have been interested in consumer issues for over many years, my journey started off trying to sort out a consumer problem with a car purchase and that led me to the CAI in the first place, where I have been a member for over 10 years.

In that time I have come to realise that the interests of consumers are very much subservient to those of producers, providers, trade unions and other vested interests. Time and time again, vested interests are in there dictating policy in their area of involvement. Given the range of areas, its hard for consumers or consumer organisations to invest the time and money in issues, that a specific trade body such as the Irish Bankers Federation or the Construction Industry Federation can. However, in my view successive Governments have failed to even attempt to address the imbalance in policy making and decision making and some of their policies and decisions could have been produced by the vested interests themselves. I am hoping through my work with CAI to redress that imbalance. Sometimes consumer activism is associated with consumerism, the concept that shopping is the new religion. I am definitely not an adherent to that new faith.

I am in particular interesting in issues affecting vulnerable consumers (those on low/fixed incomes) and in the potential for progressive consumer activism and sustainable consumerism. I know thats sounds a bit heavy, but I hope my posts over the coming period explain it a bit more. Caveat Emptor.