Tuesday, 4 February 2014

WCRD 2014: The unfair practice of mobile phone locking

In our latest WCRD 2014 blog, Conchy Martin Rey, Director for International Relations of Spanish CI Member CECU, explains why mobile phone locking is unfair.

In 2011, the sixth edition of the Study in Consumer Market Indicators of the EU reported that telecommunications was the second largest recipient of consumer complaints.

The large amount of consumer complaints prompted the European Commission to introduce measures to reduce barriers and extra costs to consumers.

One of the problems mobile consumers face is the locking of mobile phones.

This issue is causing problems in many European countries and also in Latin America.

Although some public administrations in different countries have introduced legislation or specific regulations to solve the problem that consumers face, there are many countries which rely on the “good behaviour”, “codes of ethics” or “good practices” of the operators. Other countries do not really address consumer issues and concerns.

Locking mobiles

When a consumer signs a contract that provides for a new phone, they are required to stay with that company for a certain time to amortise the cost of the phone.

During this period, if the consumers change telecommunications provider, they  will require a code to unlock the phone to be able to use it with the new provider.

During the process of getting the code,  the consumers are unable to use the phone even if the contract has expired and the mobile phone is the sole property of the consumers.

Locking of mobile phones continues even if the contract has already lapsed, so that if they decide to change to a new provider, their phones becomes unserviceable.

In Spain, after pressure from consumer associations and claimants, some operators offered to stop this practice but some of them are introducing an extra charge to unlock the phone.

Third parties also offer to unlock phones – but again this is an extra expense. It’s also possible to unlock phones using the internet but this software does not work on every phone.

The unblocking service is also provided at different prices, ranging from 2 to 12 Euros.

Introducing a locking code in the phone and charging a fee to unlock it, infringes the rights of the consumers.

When we entered “unlock mobile phone” into Google, it showed 1.3m entries in Spanish and 77.7m entries in English, which proves the interest of consumers on this issue.

It is in this light that ConfederaciĆ³n de Consumidores y Usuarios (CECU) wishes to raise awareness of consumers about their right to unlock their mobile phones, free from extra costs and other forms of inconvenience.

CECU believes that there is a lack of knowledge among consumers on this issue.

With support from CI, CECU intends to further investigate these particular concerns of mobile consumers through gathering first hand information.

A short survey, designed with the objective to find out the range of consumers affected by the issue and the paths they took to solve the problem, will be distributed to consumers.

Most of the surveys would be done online to cover several countries in Europe and Latin America. Also, a number of surveys would be done in person within Spain.

The main objective of this project is to make the issue public and relevant to consumers and regulators, whilst promoting changes that impede the use of this or any other technical restriction by telecom operators.

The report that will be produced from the project will be the final evidence that we will disseminate widely among consumers, operators and the public administrations in charge of consumer affairs and telecommunications; promoting a change that will put an end to this practice and to the inconveniences and costs related to it.

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