New ‘General Rules of Consumer Rights in Telecommunications Services’ have been passed by Brazilian telecoms regulator Anatel and published in the Official Gazette, with the goal of increasing transparency in service offerings and expanding users’ rights, the watchdog announced on its website. The rules, which cover fixed and mobile telephony, internet and pay-TV services, largely enter into force on 8 July 2014. Obligations under the new rules vary according to the size of the operator, in three tiers: providers with less than 5,000 consumers; operators with between 5,000 and 50,000 consumers; and those with more than 50,000 consumers. Anatel adds that ‘depending on the complexity of the requirement,’ operators have between 120 days to 18 months from the publication of the regulation (10 March) to implement the new rules.
Measures under the new rules include: making it simpler for consumers to cancel a service; obligating an operator to ring back a user if a call-centre call is dropped; a ‘facility to contest charges’ obligating an operator to reply within 30 days if questioned by a user regarding charges; minimum expiry of 30 days for pre-paid mobile credit; promotional offers must apply to both new and existing customers; automatic cancellation of services upon user request within two days; various measures to increase transparency/clarity in service tariffs, conditions, terms and performance specifications; consumers will have access via the internet to important information about the relationship with the service provider; consumers will also have access via the internet to all historical claims (complaints, requests for information, requests, etc) made to the operator in the previous six-month period; regulations making it easier to compare services in the market; and unified call centre service for all services included in a multi-play bundle (e.g. telephony, broadband and pay-TV).
Anatel’s announcement comes in the same week as Brazilian consumer association Proteste launched a collective compensation claim against major telecoms operators in the country. The group has represented collective allegations that operators failed to deliver on promises when selling 3G mobile packages, and sold services for which they are unable to meet demand, amongst a list of other complaints. As reported on Proteste.org.br, a document containing a wide-ranging list of telecoms issues has been presented to the National Congress, requesting – amongst other things – an urgent review of the telecoms legal framework; more efficiency in Anatel’s regulatory role; a reduction in the price of basic fixed line subscriptions; greater transparency in billing; and stricter punishments for operators which sell services they cannot deliver adequately. Some of the issues contained in the document appear to have been pre-empted, at least partially, by Anatel’s new regulations.
In a related development, following the publication of its new consumer rights regulatory framework, Anatel issued an invitation for end-users and consumer protection representatives to enrol for participation in a ‘council of users’ which telecoms operators with more than one million consumers (plus all fixed line operators) must maintain in each geographical region they cover, under Anatel’s Resolution No. 623 (including Oi, Telefonica/Vivo, Claro/Embratel/Net, CTBC Telecom, Sercomtel, TIM, GVT, Nextel and Sky). Following the registration period of candidates, operators must provide an online process for consumers to elect the board members, who will be sworn in by the end of April 2014. Each council or board will consist of up to twelve elected members: up to six end-users and up to six representatives of entities that operate in consumer services. The councils aim to lead discussions related to the review of telecommunications and quality of service/customer care, and to make suggestions for improvements. Board discussions will serve as input for the Committee for the Defence of Users of Telecommunications Services (CDUST), which assists Anatel in matters related to telecoms user rights protection.