Vodafone scrap fair use policy for data, don't tell customers
If you're a Vodafone customer, you need to be aware of a fundamental change to your mobile phone contract that begins next month. You won't know about it yet, because it seems Vodafone hasn't told its customers. More importantly, it's a change that may allow customers to cancel their contracts without penalty, and also have other consequences of significance.
It started innocently enough when a customer enquired about Vodafone's 500MB data limit in Vodafone's eForums, and what the consequences of breaching this limit might be. Other forum members stated the 500MB figure was a threshold, a soft limit rather than a hard cap, and occasionally exceeding that limit would not result in additional charges.
"The Mobile Internet packages only have a "Fair Usage Policy" of 500MB. This is used as a rough guideline for how much we expect the average user to use within a month, and there are no charges for going over this amount from time to time."
"When a data bundle is listed as having a Fair-Usage Policy, this means the stated policy limit (in this case, 500MB per month) is only a guide used to measure potential abuse, and there is no automatic out-of-bundle charging for exceeding this limit."
And this is the clause in Vodafone's terms and conditions:
27. All Vodafone services offered free or under unlimited subscription are subject to our Fair Use Policy. If, in the reasonable opinion of Vodafone, your use is excessive, we may ask you to moderate your usage. If, after we have asked you to moderate your usage, you fail to do so, we reserve the right to:
(a) charge you for the excessive element of your usage at your price plan's standard rate;
(b) throttle your usage; or
(c) suspend or terminate your service in accordance with your airtime terms and conditions.
Then yesterday, Vodafone announced they were scrapping their fair use policy:
We are planning to introduce Out Of Bundle charging for Pay Monthly customers from 1st June 2010. The reason we're introducing these charges is to make it fairer for everyone, and to protect our network from data abuse. We're introducing a real-time notifications service to be completely transparent about these charges and keep customers in control of their spend. No Out Of Bundle charges will happen this month but they will take effect from 1st June. The messages you've received this month were sent in error and no more will be sent out from today.
The charging will be as follows:
Monthly bundle customers will pay £5 for every 500MB after the first 500MB
Customers without a monthly bundle will pay 50p for every 10MB after the first 25MB
Whilst you've all previously been used to there not being any Out Of Bundle charging, the current information available online is clear in explaining that we could introduce such charging at any time.
Let's pick this apart, because there's some sleight-of-hand going on:
- As far as we're aware, the announcement of the change has only appeared in the Vodafone forums, meaning the vast majority of Vodafone customers don't know about the changes. Clause 7.2 of their Pay Monthly Airtime Terms states "we will give you at least 30 days notice of these changes if we do and you may have a right to end this Agreement under clause 11." If customers haven't been informed, then Vodafone seem to be in breach of contract (if you have received this information from Vodafone, please let us know).
- Vodafone cannot use the term 'unlimited' to promote their data services, which they still continue to do on their website. A fair use policy allowed a degree of ambiguity, which has now gone - there isn't nothing unlimited about a fixed service. Vodafone should be expected to remove the term from all promotional material immediately.
- Significantly, Vodafone are attempting to position this change as an additional service, by describing it as "Out of Bundle charging". They're quite adamant about this, but why? Because it closes the door on a customer cancelling their contract at no charge. They're trying to turn the fair usage policy (a clause that is part and parcel of the Price Plan Terms for "Vodafone Your Plan" as outlined above) into an additional service - and additional services are bound by terms and conditions separate to your core agreement, and therefore you have no right to cancel without penalty.
Vodafone will no doubt argue this change does not place the customer at a significant disadvantage, and refuse to cancel contracts, but the repercussions are significant. Customers are signing contracts for up to 24 months, expecting a set of terms that provides some elasticity if their data usage is unusually high. Indeed, plenty of customers in Vodafone's own forums mention they exceed their limit on a regular basis without ever hearing from Vodafone - a right afforded to them by their core terms of service. And despite what any provider says, 500 MB in a month really isn't all that difficult to exceed during normal use.
The bottom line is that this change is not about the introduction of charges; it's a fundamental and significant change to your agreement - setting a hard data limit negates an entire clause in your agreement with the provider. There are plenty of unanswered questions here - does this apply to longstanding customers or new contracts only? Is the £5 charge for "every 500MB" applied proportionally, or are you charged the whole amount for straying a MB or two over your limit? We've contacted Vodafone for a statement but are yet to hear back; there's all manner of holy hell kicking off in their own forums, on Twitter and on MSE, and they need to start talking to their customers about this issue sharpish.
thanks to avid Bitterwallet reader Tony for the tip