Broadband advert rule changes come into effect

New rules forcing broadband firms to be clearer in adverts on the costs of their contracts have come into effect.
  
New rules forcing broadband firms to be clearer in adverts on the costs of their contracts have come into effect.
 
Broadband suppliers will now have to show upfront and monthly costs, without separating out line rental prices, according to the changes brought in by the Advertising Standards Authority. The rules were originally due to be implemented in May, but firms asked for more time to comply with the changes. The ASA said customers were now much less likely to be misled.
 
“The effect should be a real positive difference in how consumers understand and engage with ads for broadband services,” said ASA chief executive Guy Parker.
 
The move comes after research by the ASA, conducted with regulator Ofcom last year, found that most users could not correctly calculate bills based on the information given in a selection of broadband ads. People were “likely to be confused and misled” by price claims in the adverts, the ASA found.
 
Geoff Roberts, from Northampton, said that he found broadband adverts “completely misleading”. “What was advertised up front – when you really went into it – was nothing like what they were offering. The monthly amount was not clear.” He was paying nearly £45 for his phone and broadband, but reduced that amount to £26.50 when he switched to another provider.
 
To comply with the new rules, broadband providers will now have to: Show all-inclusive, upfront and monthly costs, with no separating out of line rental prices, Give greater prominence to the contract length and any post-discount pricing, Give greater prominence to upfront costs.
 
Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock welcomed the ASA’s move. “Making broadband providers show all-inclusive, upfront prices in their advertisements means consumers will be much better placed to make an informed choice when deciding on a service,” he added.
 
Technology expert Chris Green said: “It’s going to level the playing field, and make pricing more transparent. But mostly it’s about providing a lot more clarity to customers.”
 
However, there will be no change to the rules on the way providers are allowed to advertise the broadband speeds on offer. “If a broadband company advertises a particular speed, actually only up to 10% of people need to get that speed, which a lot of people would say is quite misleading,” said Steve Nowottny from Moneysavingexpert. One reason for that rule is that different customers will experience different speeds, according to how far they live from the telephone exchange.
 
 

Allow mobile phone network roaming in UK, urge MPs

Mobile phone companies should allow customers to roam between networks in areas of the UK where they struggle to get reception, a group of MPs has said.
  
Mobile phone companies should allow customers to roam between networks in areas of the UK where they struggle to get reception, a group of MPs has said.
 
The British Infrastructure Group said foreign visitors get better coverage, as they are not tied to any provider, so can use the strongest signal. The report said 17 million customers had poor reception at home and it named 525 areas with non-existent coverage. Phone companies insist they are working hard to make their coverage better.
 
Roaming allows customers’ phones to connect to another operator’s network if their own service provider is not available in a particular area. The cross-party group of about 90 backbench MPs called on ministers to make sweeping changes, including changing the law to allow domestic roaming in the UK, making it cheaper for customers to switch provider and identifying the worst phone networks. The report said mobile phone coverage in the UK had not improved significantly since 2014 when the government agreed a £5bn investment deal with the network operators. The agreement is expected to fall short of its target of providing coverage to 90% of the UK’s geographical area by the end of 2017.
 
Group chairman Grant Shapps said: “It is unacceptable that areas in Britain continue to have such poor mobile connectivity, and that overseas visitors can expect better mobile coverage than Britons stuck with a single provider. The time for excuses from the mobile sector is over. The government must make a better call for Britain and bring national mobile coverage policy into the 21st Century.”
 
Gary MacRae, who runs the Hazel Bank Country House Hotel in Borrowdale, Cumbria, said he had to rely on a landline because there was no mobile reception at the premises. He said: “The only way our guests are able to get signal is either go to the top of one of the small mountains just along from us that you can see from our window or drive down the road five or six miles.”
 
Mr MacRae said in previous years the lack of mobile signal would have been a selling point but now people want it to stay connected to their loved ones. He also said a mobile phone signal was needed in the area “just in case of emergencies” for those who may get into trouble while out walking in the countryside.

 
MP Grant Shapps said he used a foreign SIM during election campaigning, which allowed him to connect to whichever network had the strongest signal. 
 
Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis said in most cases using a foreign SIM, or a global roaming SIM, in an unlocked handset would allow customers to receive better overall network coverage. He suggested the most effective way would be to have a dual SIM phone which would mainly use a UK SIM but could switch to a foreign SIM when there was no signal. But he said the cost would be likely to be higher as customers would be paying increased roaming charges for making and receiving calls.
 
Mr Lewis, who previously wrote a blog on the issue, said: “It would be a very expensive way to make calls in the UK. But you could do it if it was absolutely integral to you. If you are the type of person who would use a satellite phone then doing this would not be a bad solution. It’s going to cost a fortune compared to using a normal phone. On that basis it’s not a practical solution for most people.”
 
Mobile UK, the trade association for mobile phone companies, said allowing customers to roam between networks would not provide the “right incentives” for operators to make future investments. Spokesman Hamish MacLeod said: “This was looked at by the government a couple of years ago and it was decided that the cost of doing it would not be justified, it’s technically difficult to do in a localised way, and that it wouldn’t always offer the best customer experience. But the most important thing was that it would not have the right incentives in place for network investments to be made.”
 
Mr MacLeod said the industry was working hard to hit its target of providing 90% coverage and investment was being put in place to limit reception blackspots. However, he said domestic roaming would not provide an incentive for companies to build “the right infrastructure”, such as expensive towers in remote areas, if the service then had to be shared with other operators.
 
The report also stated that customers were at risk of being hit with large exit fees if they decide to terminate their contract, even if it was due to poor quality service. The government said a bill going through Parliament would give regulator Ofcom the power to fine firms that do not deliver improvements.
 
 

 

Drivers ‘no longer fear punishment’ for mobile phone use

The number of fines issued for using mobile phones while driving fell by 43% last year, official figures show.
  
The number of fines issued for using mobile phones while driving fell by 43% last year, official figures show.
 
Last year, 16,900 motorists in England and Wales were issued with £100 fixed-penalty notices after being caught, down from 29,700 in 2014. The RAC said the figures indicated “attitudes are clearly relaxing as a result of drivers no longer fearing punishment”. The government said it is shortly to announce tougher penalties. Over the past five years the number of penalties issued has fallen by 86%, according to police data for England and Wales.
 
The road safety charity Brake said the number of fines does not reflect the “rapidly growing problem” of mobile usage by drivers. Mike Bristow, spokesman for Brake, said: “Instead, these figures are evidence of the alarming drop in traffic cops on our roads. We urge the government to make roads policing a national policing priority to prevent illegal, risk-taking behaviour behind the wheel.”
 
The RAC said that while the numbers had “fallen off a cliff”, the figures laid bare the lack of policing. 

The breakdown organisation’s road safety spokesman, Pete Williams, said: “The simple truth is the problem of illegal handheld phone use at the wheel is undeniably getting worse, with fewer and fewer people being caught.” 

Recent research from the RAC found the number of drivers who think it is acceptable to make a quick call doubled from 7% in 2014 to 14% in 2016.

 
Mr Williams said mobile phone usage at the wheel was an “epidemic that has been allowed to sweep across the country largely unchallenged”. “Attitudes are clearly relaxing as a result of drivers no longer fearing punishment,” he added.
 
According to the Department of Transport, 22 people were killed in the UK last year by motorists using their phones whilst driving, and 684 people were injured.
 
In September, the government set out plans for new rules to come in next year, under which drivers will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fine for using their mobiles at the wheel. While the enforcement of road traffic offences is a police matter, a government spokesperson said: “We are clear that the illegal use of handheld devices while driving is totally unacceptable. We take this extremely seriously and will be shortly announcing tougher penalties for using mobile phones at the wheel.”
 
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for roads policing, chief constable Suzette Davenport, said in recent years police forces have adopted new tactics, such as sending offenders on courses, rather than issuing fines, to learn about the impact and consequences of driving while distracted. She said: “While we are committed to policing these offences, we must also acknowledge that we cannot simply enforce away peoples’ behaviour. We need to address not only the offences themselves but the attitudes which sit behind them.”
 
According to the NPCC, studies have shown that 68% of drivers who attend driver alertness courses stated that their driving habits had changed a great deal or quite a lot as a result.
 
 

 
 

Apple raises computer prices in UK

Apple has increased the prices of its laptop and desktop computers in the UK by hundreds of pounds.
  
Apple has increased the prices of its laptop and desktop computers in the UK by hundreds of pounds.
 
On Thursday, the company unveiled new Macbook Pro laptops, with prices similar to the US after currency conversion and addition of UK VAT. But the company also increased the prices of its older computer products, including the three-year-old Mac Pro, by hundreds of pounds.
 
One analyst said consumers should expect further price increases. “Apple has to recalibrate prices after significant currency fluctuations, and since the EU referendum, UK prices are out of sync with the dollar,” said Patrick O’Brien, analyst at the Verdict Retail consultancy. “Apple has taken the hit up until now. While price increases won’t look good to the consumer, it’s difficult to blame Apple. Once you strip out UK sales tax (VAT) and the currency conversion, the new UK prices could still be viewed as fair.”
 
A number of technology companies have increased their prices in the UK, reflecting the lower value of the pound. Apple’s least expensive laptop – the 13in Macbook Air, last updated in March 2015 – now costs £949, up from £849. Its Mac Pro desktop computer – last updated in December 2013 – now costs £2,999, up from £2,499.
 
“Apple suggests product prices internationally on the basis of several factors, including currency exchange rates, local import laws, business practices, taxes, and the cost of doing business,” the company said. “International prices are not always comparable to US suggested retail prices.”

 
Rival Microsoft has already announced UK price increases for some of its business services. Earlier in October, the company said some service prices would go up by 22% in 2017, reflecting the pound’s weakened value against the euro.
 
“We periodically assess the impact of local pricing of our products and services to ensure there is reasonable alignment across the region and this change is an outcome of this assessment,” the company said.
 
Mr O’Brien said it was “inevitable” that more companies would increase the prices of products and services. “Retailers are struggling with increased costs to import goods, and it’s something they cannot afford to swallow themselves,” he said. “We will definitely see further price rises, so if people are in the market for big-ticket items such as laptops, it might be a wise idea to buy now rather than later.”
 
 

 

Martin Lewis warns Vodafone users to check their bills

Millions of Vodafone customers are being urged to check their bills and bank statements for errors, after the company was fined millions of pounds for making mistakes
  
Millions of Vodafone customers are being urged to check their bills and bank statements for errors, after the company was fined millions of pounds for making mistakes.
 
The telecoms firm has been fined £4.6million Ofcom because of the way it dealt with customer complaints. 

The regulator also said that it misled pay-as-you-go customers, charging them for top-up credit that never materialised on their accounts. 

The fine has raised concerned from experts that a large number of customers may still be experiencing problems.

 
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, said that he had already received “thousands of complaints from Vodafone customers” and these were likely to be a “drop in the ocean compared with the amount of people likely affected, as most people don’t rigorously check their bills or tariffs.”
 
It also found that some customers has had their credit score negatively affected. He added: “It’s pleasing to see that the regulator has caught up, however, that doesn’t change the fact that Vodafone has been mischarging substantial numbers of customers. This fine isn’t enough. Actually, the real cost to Vodafone will be fixing the tens of thousands more bills that are wrong and potential ensuing credit score problems. This is a crucial reminder if you’re a Vodafone customer that your bills might be wrong.”
 
Vodafone is blaming the problems on errors that were made during a complex IT change to its systems – this affected 28.5million customers. Today it said that it “deeply regretted” the mistakes and apologised to customers.

 
A Vodafone spokesman said: “Millions of customers went through migration process and were unaffected by problems. We’ve seen a drop in complaints of about 50 per cent since last November.”
 
The regulator found that it had charged more than 10,000 pay-as-you-go customers for credit but not topped them up. This dates back to a period between December 2013 and April last year. It paid back the £150,000 collectively lost over a 17 month period to the vast majority of customers.
 
Ofcom also found that its staff were not prepared to deal with complaints and it did not follow rules on how they should be handled. This relates to the period between January 2014 and November last year. The £4.6million fine is the biggest ever issued to a telecoms firm. However, the whole sum goes to the Treasury.
 
The company also made a £100,000 donation to a number of UK charities.
 
If you’ve got an unresolved dispute with Vodafone – or any mobile provider – then you have a right to get it fixed.
 
Firstly, complain to the company. Vodafone says that the quickest way to get a complaint sorted is by calling them on 08080 044 900. The number is free from UK landlines and mobiles. You can see more about how to complain to Vodafone on its website.
 
If you’ve tried this – and you’ve been waiting more than eight weeks – or you’re unhappy with their response then you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman. You can either do this yourself or by using a free complaints tool, like Resolver.co.uk or aSpokesmansaid.com. These websites have template letters and guidelines on what your rights are.

 
You will need to include information about your problem, what you’ve lost in terms of financial loss or distress and what you want them to do to put it right. Vodafone uses Ombudsman Services: Communications. Its free service will independently review your complaint and make Vodafone sort it out, if they rule in your favour. You can find more information on www.os-communications.org.
 
 
 

Vodafone fined £4.6m by Ofcom for breaking customer rules

Telecoms operator Vodafone has been fined £4.6m by Ofcom for “serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules”.
  
Telecoms operator Vodafone has been fined £4.6m by Ofcom for “serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules”.
 
The regulator said Vodafone had misled pay-as-you-go customers, charging them for top-up credit but “providing nothing in return”. It also found Vodafone had broken the rules on handling customer complaints. Vodafone offered its “profound apologies” for the failures said it was “determined to put everything right”.
 
The fines stem from two earlier investigations into Vodafone, which has 20 million mobile customers in the UK. One found that 10,452 pay-as-you-go customers lost out when Vodafone failed to credit their accounts after they paid to top-up their mobile phone credit. The affected customers collectively lost £150,000 over a 17-month period, Ofcom said. The problems were caused by IT issues linked to the company’s move to a new billing system. However, Vodafone “failed to act quickly enough to identify or address these problems” and only moved to fix the issue after Ofcom intervened, the regulator said.
 
A second investigation found that Vodafone’s customer service agents were not given “sufficiently clear guidance” on what constituted a customer complaint. Moreover, poor processes meant some complaints were not handled “in a fair, timely manner”. The firm also failed to ensure customers were told, in writing, of their right to take an unresolved complaint to a third-party resolution scheme after eight weeks.
 
In a statement, Vodafone said it had “fully refunded or re-credited” 10,422 pay-as-you-go customers out of the 10,452 affected. It said it was unable to track down the remaining 30 affected. It also said it had invested in better customer service and training.
 
“Everyone who works for us is expected to do their utmost to meet our customers’ needs,” it said. “It is clear from Ofcom’s findings that we did not do that often enough or well enough on a number of occasions. We offer our profound apologies to anyone affected by these errors.”
 
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom Consumer Group director, said: “Vodafone’s failings were serious and unacceptable, and these fines send a clear warning to all telecoms companies. “Phone services are a vital part of people’s lives, and we expect all customers to be treated fairly and in good faith.”
 
 

Apple ‘leaks its own Macbook Pro laptop revamp’

Apple appears to have leaked images of its next-generation laptop ahead of a press conference on Thursday.
  
Apple appears to have leaked images of its next-generation laptop ahead of a press conference on Thursday.
 
The photos support claims that the Macbook Pro will include a panel above its keyboard that replaces physical function keys with a thin display showing touch-sensitive text and graphics, and a fingerprint sensor. The images were discovered in an update to the MacOS operating system and first appeared on the MacRumors news site.
 
Such “accidents” are not uncommon. In September, Apple tweeted and then deleted a video showing off the iPhone 7’s new features ahead of its launch. Earlier in April, it referred to MacOS on its website two months before officially revealing it was rebranding the software from its earlier name of OS X.
 
The company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, notably promised to “double down on secrecy on products” in 2012 after earlier leaks. But the company is far from being the only one to have problems with the issue.
 
In the past two months alone: Images and specifications for Google’s Pixel smartphones were posted online by the UK retailer Carphone Warehouse and the US network Verizon before they had been officially revealed. China’s LeEco published details of new TVs and handsets on its own website weeks ahead of a big-budget event organised in the US to unveil them. Blackberry revealed details off its DTEK60 smartphone a month early when it added a page named “specifications-a-donotpublish.html” to its website. Official product shots for Huawei’s Mate 9 and HTC’s Bolt handsets were obtained and published on Twitter by Venturebeat’s Evan Blass – both products have yet to be formally announced.
 
Conspiracy theorists have speculated that such leaks could be orchestrated by the manufacturers to boost publicity. 

But one expert has doubts that is true.
 

“The leaks are massively damaging as these companies want to have their ‘wow moments’ when products are unveiled, and an explosion of media coverage, rather than a more tepid response because the details are known in advance,” said Ben Wood from CCS Insight. “But it seems to have become virtually impossible for any large company to keep new tech products under wraps. The only recent time such leaks have worked in a company’s favour was when it emerged from China that the iPhone 7 was not going to have a dedicated headphone jack. That helped Apple, as it meant people were less shocked and kind of accepted it was going to be the case when it was confirmed.”
 
 
 

Apple iPhone sales fall, but beat estimates

Apple has reported its third quarter in a row of falling iPhone sales and revenue, but sales beat analyst expectations.
  
Apple has reported its third quarter in a row of falling iPhone sales and revenue, but sales beat analyst expectations.
 
The tech giant sold 45.51 million iPhones in the three months to 24 September, beating an average estimate of 44.8 million. The company also forecast higher-than-expected holiday season revenue of between $76bn and $78bn. But revenue in the fourth quarter fell 9% to $46.85bn.
 
That meant annual revenue fell for the first time since 2001, highlighting a slowdown in the smartphone market as well as intensifying competition, particularly from Chinese rivals.
 
Apple executives said demand for the new iPhone 7 was strong, despite fiscal fourth-quarter revenue falls in China and the Americas, its two most important markets. Revenue from Greater China, once seen as Apple’s next growth hope, fell 30% in the quarter, after dropping 33% in the previous quarter. In the same period last year, revenue from Greater China doubled. Apple’s shares were down 3% at about $114.80 in after-hours trading.
 
“Apple didn’t have a great [fourth quarter] as iPhones, Macs, China, the US and what appears to be Watch were down,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
 
Net income fell to $9.01bn in the fourth quarter, down from $11bn in the same quarter last year. For the year, net income fell to $45.7bn from $53.4bn.
 
Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said it was “impossible to know” if there was any effect yet from rival Samsung halting production of Galaxy Note 7 phones earlier this month.
 
 

 
 

Apple complains Amazon’s US site is selling fake products

Apple has complained of a “flood” of counterfeit goods masquerading as its products being sold on Amazon.com.
  
Apple has complained of a “flood” of counterfeit goods masquerading as its products being sold on Amazon.com.
 
The claim relates to items sold via Amazon’s “fulfilment” scheme, whereby third parties list their goods on the retail giant’s site, store their inventory in its warehouses and rely on it for deliveries. Apple warns the alleged fakes are potentially life-threatening. But it is suing one of the vendors rather than Amazon itself. The defendant, New York-based Mobile Star LLC, could not be reached for comment and has yet to file its own legal paperwork.
Amazon says it takes such matters seriously.
 
“Amazon has zero tolerance for the sale of counterfeits on our site,” a spokeswoman said. “We work closely with manufacturers and brands and pursue wrongdoers aggressively.” Details of the case were first reported by Patently Apple.
 
Apple said it had bought “well over” 100 iPhone devices, own-brand power adapters and charging cables, and had found almost 90% of them were fakes. “Unlike genuine Apple products, they are not subjected to industry-standard consumer safety testing and are poorly constructed with inferior or missing components, flawed design and inadequate electrical insulation,” it said. “These counterfeits have the potential to overheat, catch fire and deliver a deadly shock to consumers while in normal use.”
 
It added that customers might be fooled into believing the products were safe because Amazon was perceived to be one of the US’s most trustworthy companies. “Consumers, relying on Amazon.com’s reputation, have no reason to suspect the power products they purchased… are anything but genuine.”
 
One blogger who has previously highlighted what he calls “Amazon’s fraudulent seller problem” suggested Apple should be more aggressive in its effort to tackle the issue. “I can certainly see why Apple is suing Mobile Star,” wrote John Gruber. “But why not sue Amazon too? This is shameful. I’ve known for a while never to trust anything merely ‘fulfilled by Amazon’, but I’m actually surprised that even the ‘Apple’ branded chargers… are dangerous counterfeits as well.”
 
 

Broadband must be affordable for poor, say councils

The poorest people in society should be given financial help to pay for fast broadband, a body representing councils in England and Wales has said.
  
The poorest people in society should be given financial help to pay for fast broadband, a body representing councils in England and Wales has said.
 
The Local Government Association is calling on the government to include a social tariff in its universal service obligation for broadband. The subsidy would give low-income families a basic service of at least 10Mbps, it said. According to an LGA report, one in four adults lacks basic online skills.
 
The body does not specify what price should be set for affordable broadband but points to an existing scheme offered by BT. BT offers a £9.95 per month broadband and telephone service to people who receive income support, jobseeker’s allowance or other benefits. The LGA wants to see all other providers offering similar schemes but does not specify whether the government should also contribute.
 
Councillor Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses. Many government services are going digital by default, and we need to be able to ensure that the most vulnerable and least well-off can afford to use them.”
 
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK , said: “With one in seven pensioners living in poverty, the cost of getting online is already prohibitive for many, leaving some older people feeling priced out of the digital world.”
The government has promised to deliver a new broadband universal service obligation (USO) by 2020, which will give people the right to demand a broadband service of at least 10Mbps.
 
The USO forms the cornerstone of the Digital Economy Bill, currently making its way through Parliament. Some have criticised the plan, saying 10Mbps is too low.
 
Speaking about the USO at a broadband conference in London, Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: “10Mbps may be enough for today’s needs, it won’t be enough for tomorrow’s.” He did not address the price of broadband specifically, focusing instead on the need to get superfast broadband to as many areas of the country as possible. First, we must complete the rollout of universal 4G and superfast broadband between now and 2020. Second, we must deliver deeper connectivity now in areas of deep need, and support a competitive market for delivery. Third, we must start work now on ubiquitous 5G and fibre over the decade ahead. The destination on this journey must be to push digital connectivity out as far as it will go, treating broadband as the fourth utility.”