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Are broadband contracts too complex?
Tuesday 05 September 2006 10:33:00 by Andrew Ferguson

It would seem the Carphone Warehouse staff are assessing customers who come into stores as to whether they can understand the company's contract for telephone and broadband services. This was highlighted over the weekend in a Daily Mail article where a 75 year old was not allowed to sign the forms for the TalkTalk phone and broadband package unless a younger member of her family could explain the small print. The full item is online at www.dailymail.co.uk.

With the combined package that TalkTalk offer the terms and conditions are very long, approaching 18 pages of close type, which we doubt many will have read fully, but rather skimmed looking for what they think are the salient facts. One wonders whether providers will start asking random questions on the terms and conditions to verify whether people have read them. TalkTalk seem to have this discretionary rule for those over 70 years old, but there are plenty of people of other ages who will not understand the terms and conditions or simply become confused by the amount of legal speak and unfamiliar technical terms.

Five years ago if you had an ADSL connection it was more expensive and slower, but it was a simple connection. These days many people have services that have fair use policies that are vague and woolly, or traffic shaping is used that can vary in effect from day to day. Some providers have a download limit, and as you approach this they start to throttle your connection back, warning you as you cross into the various levels, others simply let you carry on until they send final warning letters for exceeding the limit. Then there is the issue of the 'free' offers - plenty of these have terms that apply, but people become blinkered once the word free in big bold type is seen, how many people who sign up to a 12 month contract would check whether the activation fee or a proportion of it is repayable for up to five years, even though the contract they signed was for a 12 month initial term. Or alternatively spot that you can cease the connection outside the minimum period for no cost (incurring a new activation with next provider) or pay an admin fee to obtain their migration code.

With these myriad hurdles and loops for consumers to check up on, we think it is time for a 'keep it simple' contract scheme, with the main contract terms being laid out on a single page that is in easy to understand everyday language.

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