The Instituto das Comunicações de Portugal (ICP) has given audiotext provider, Alcazar Telecomunicações, Lda a 24-hour deadline to modify its services, in order to comply with legal requirements. If the situation is not rectified at the end of the 24-hour period, the provider's registration for access to the business activity is to be revoked. The provider may also suffer a fine of up to EUR 49,879.79 (PTE 10 million). The deadline ends on October 23, 2001, at 17:00.
At stake is a failure to respect legally required customer information obligations for audiotext services - commonly known as value added services - as well as provision of Internet access by the said provider without a legal basis for such provision.
An inspection carried out by ICP, revealed that this provider was providing audiotext services via an Internet site at the address, "portugalmovel.com". It is possible to access this site via a normal connection to an Internet Service Provider. Access to the content available in the site, however, requires a telephone connection to audiotext number 648 96 90 19.
The latter connection is only possible after downloading a computer programme. This programme automatically substitutes the connection between the user and its Internet Service Provider (ISP). In this manner, the audiotext provider also permits access to other Internet sites, via its own telephone number, thus operating as an ISP.
During the inspection, none of the information mechanisms that are legally required for audiotext services were found: the oral message providing information on the type of service provided and respective price; a sound signal, audible once per minute, intended to provide users with a perception of the call duration; and conformity of the prefix code with the type of service provided. In regards to the latter requirement, the 648 prefix, designed to be used exclusively for erotic services, is being used to provide access to a service of logos and ring signals for mobile phones.
It was also found that the provider is registered for the provision of audiotext services, subject to a specific regulatory framework, and as such is not authorised to provide access to Internet services (ISP).
Given the failure to comply with such requirements, ICP was able to conclude, under the powers conferred to it by law, that this service, provided by Alcazar Telecomunicações, Lda, damages consumer rights and interests upheld by law, namely the right to a free and informed choice of services.
The audiotext provider therefore has 24 hours in which to correct this situation, at the end of which its registration will be revoked, thus impeding it from providing audiotext services. A countermanding process against the audiotext provider was also initiated, that may result in payment of a fine between EUR 14,963.94 (PTE 3 million) and EUR 49,879.79 (PTE 10 million).
In order to correct this situation the above mentioned legally required information mechanisms must be introduced, as well as cessation of any function equivalent to, or in substitution of, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), for which the company is not legally empowered.
This is an unprecedented situation and therefore merits special attention from Internet users. Internet is a free space and paid services may thus exist, frequently using procedures designed to encourage consumer spending for which users have not yet developed the appropriate defence mechanisms.
Such users, in their dual capacity as consumers and citizens, must use the same precautions employed when contracting services outside the Internet, always maintaining a notion of the rights and commitments that are assumed when a contractual relationship is established.
For this reason, users should always carefully read the proposed terms and conditions in detail, in order to be able to choose the services they wish to contract in an informed and responsible manner.
Inspection and supervision powers specified by law are never an efficient substitute for citizens' own sense of responsibility and conscientiousness. Thus, while not invalidating the utility of denouncements sent to ICP and other authorities with specific powers, and the subsequent investigation of situations thereby communicated, users are advised to proceed with special care in these matters.
- Decree-Law no. 177/99, of 21 May https://www.anacom.pt/render.jsp?contentId=976689