Study: Romanian bundled telecom services users face complicated, costly unsubscribing

The unsubscribing process from bundled telecom services can be complicated and costly, an analysis of the Romanian Competition Council found.

When attempting to unsubscribe, users of TV, fixed internet and mobile telephony services can encounter issues with contacting the provider or with having their request processed and solved. Furthermore, the Competition Council identified potentially abusive clauses in the contracts providers of multi-play services close with their individual customers.

The Council found that service providers are difficult to contact, and in some cases clients can only reach them through a registered letter accompanied by an arrival receipt, or through a request filled in only at the provider’s work points designated for this specific purpose. Some service providers do not even mention how they can be contacted if the client wishes to unsubscribe from their services.

At the same time, the costs associated with unsubscribing determine many clients to give it up. Over 80% of those who changed providers thought the costs were too high, while more than 50% said they were discouraged by the costs associated with unsubscribing, according to analysis.

The process of subscribing can also be a difficult one, and in some cases the set up and activation of services can take more than 30 days. The delays are caused by the fact that the provider firsts requests the contract to be signed, and only later checks if the needed infrastructure or the technical solution is available at the client’s location. “As such, clients have no guarantee that the purchased services will be provided,” the analysis shows.

The analysis also revealed that the providers’ websites fail to mention the steps that need to be taken for unsubscribing. By contrast, the information about subscribing is highly visible and the purchase of a subscription is made easy.

Another problem users encounter is that dropping one service in the package entails the annulment of all the services in the package. Furthermore, they risk having several nonfunctional services in case of a technical malfunction, when all services are provided through the same technology. They also risk being disconnected from all services in the package if they have failed to pay one of them. In certain areas, users might not encounter other providers that offer only one service or the exiting providers have limited coverage.

The Competition Council identified several potentially abusive clauses in the contracts multi-play providers close with their individual clients.

One of them refers to asking for compensation in case of early unsubscribing. In some cases, the user needs to pay 50% of the value of the subscription left until the end of the contract, the value of all taxes and promotional tariffs, or the value of all subscriptions for every contracted service, at the list price, multiplied by the number of months left until the end of the minimum contract period.

This discourages clients from changing providers and impacts the clients’ mobility, the analysis found.

Another potentially abusive clause refers to making the closing of the contract compulsory before the providers checks if it has the technical capacity of providing the service at the beneficiary’s location. The set up and activation of services can take in between 30 and 90 days, and the period can even be extended by another 90 days. Meanwhile, the beneficiary has no certainty that the services will be provided.

The Competition Council analysis showed that the local market of fixed telecommunication is highly concentrated nationally. Four providers have over 85% of the total subscribers to television services and fixed internet, and over 95% of the subscribers to the landline telephony service.

Nationwide, RCS&RDS has the highest number of cable TV and fixed internet subscribers, while Telekom the most landline telephony subscribers. Each company holds over 40% of national clients.

The same analysis revealed that, most of the time, the television, fixed internet and landline telephony services are purchase together with other services. Only a small number of subscribers own only a separate television, fixed internet or landline telephony service.

At the same time, the providers that do not offer service packages but multiple individual services behave similarly to those who do offer packages by encouraging the acquisition of multiple services with various advantages. In their turn, consumers would rather deal with only one provider to receive all the services they are interested in.

When putting together the analysis, the Competition Council requested data from Digital Cable Systems, Orange Romania, RCS&RDS, Telekom Romania Communications and UPC Romania. It also collaborated with the National Consumer Protection Authority (ANPC) and with the telecom regulator ANCOM.

The Council plans to use the results of the analysis when looking at anti-competition cases.

The analysis is available in Romanian here.

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