FIJI - Broadband customers face unfair rates changeover

Connect, which holds substantial market power in internet services in Fiji recently announced new packages for residential and business broadband subscribers. The ISP which is subsidiary of Fiji's monopoly fixed-line telecommunications provider Telecom Fiji has set unfair conditions for consumers one of which is automatically moving customers to the new packages and removing their free Connect email address. This is the first press release on the matter issued by the Consumer Council of Fiji.

Connect’s new rates not fair on customers

[Consumer Council of Fiji, Press Release 14 February 2012]

LOYAL broadband customers of internet service provider (ISP) Connect are being unfairly asked to migrate to new rates and packages beginning in April.

The Consumer Council is calling on Connect which holds substantial market power in fixed-line broadband services to re-look at the rates as we have been receiving concerns from consumers that the new rates are not fair. Customers who used to pay $35.78 for the 256/128k and 5GB data cap package are being asked to switch to a package that offers only 1GB data cap with a new speed of 1MB (1mbps) at $35. These customers will be losing out 4GB of data they used to pay for. To sign up for 2GB data cap at a speed of 1MB will now cost $51.75.

Customers will now be unable to download as much as before. Although Connect has offered Broadband Plans based on speeds beginning at 1MB for the new packages, consumer complaints show that speeds are not always guaranteed and connectivity problems are common. It is ironic that Connect is informing customers “Speeds are not guaranteed and varies depending on your location or condition of the lines” and yet their package is based on speed. This is daylight robbery. In their advertisement they are using the terms – “speeds up to 1 MB”. If Connect cannot guarantee the speed then why should consumers choose a plan based on speed?

The Council is calling on the Fiji Commerce Commission and Telecommunications Authority of Fiji (TAF) to stop Connect from selling a product which they cannot guarantee. The Council finds some of Connect’s rates not consumer friendly, particularly when many customers have remained loyal to the ISP for long, choosing not to use other internet products on the market. The Council finds it odd that Connect has chosen to make data more expensive at the retail level when the Fiji Commerce Commission began regulating wholesale bandwidth rate charged by FINTEL (monopoly holder of international cable traffic) in July 2010. Connect and other ISPs received some relief after the FCC intervened over wholesale bandwidtch rates charged by FINTEL. Connect should be in a stronger position to provide better deal for its new and old customers. There should be no excuse of tough competition in the market place now. The internet has grown to become an essential need in today’s world whereby every second person relies on it to organize their work, school, travelling and social life in order. The number of internet users has increased in the last three years as noticeable from the many products offered by ISPs from fixed to wireless broadband services.

It would have been better if Connect only slashed the data cap for customers by 50% instead of the 80% cut made to its loyal tier-one customers. Connect should consider giving a better deal to its faithful customers. The Council is also concerned that in a newsletter circular to customers this month Connect had informed that customers who do not convert to the new rates by 30 March 2012 “will automatically be converted” to a new plan. And it will also take away customers’ Connect email addresses supplied free with their existing service. Customers had signed a service contract with Connect and for the company to simply change a customer’s services without his/her consent and through such a
blanket decision is totally unfair.

Furthermore, the new rates and the manner in which Connect is introducing these contradicts the Government’s National Broadband Policy and long-term plans of strengthening ICT services in Fiji to create digital society. Government’s intent of optimizing economic, health, education and commercial benefits from increased connectivity, accessibility and fast and more reliable internet services becomes difficult to achieve if consumers are not given better deal.

1 comment

Connect maintains 5GB data cap, ups speed

Persistent lobbying by the Consumer Council of Fiji has forced the ISP Connect to keep entry-level customers' data cap to 5GB with the same rate of F$35 per month, and at 10mbps speed. The Consumer Council had publicly raised the issue after Connect decided to reduced the monthly data cap for its loyal customers to 1GB and provide speed at 1mbps.

While Connect has provided customers the choice of Connect Velocity - F$35/month, 10mbps, 5GB data cap, the Consumer Council has found the ISP acting unfairly towards its customers. For instance customers have been forced to go through the same process one goes through when signing up for an internet service. Customers have been inconvenienced by having to again provide identity documents etc, when their personal information and identify are already on Connect's customer data base. The Council has also found certain clauses in the new customer contracts that are unfair to consumers and anti-competitive in nature.

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