Vodafone has been fined €13,000 for massive delays in transferring landline numbers and unlocking mobile phones for customers.
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) prosecuted the broadband and phone service company after looking into customer complaints in 2020 and earlier this year.
Vodafone pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court on Thursday to 12 sample counts in two prosecutions brought by the telecom regulator. It also agreed to pay an additional €20,000 towards ComReg’s costs.
Shelley Horan BL told Judge Anthony Halpin the first batch of charges was for delays encountered by new customers who transferred to Vodafone’s landline service but wanted to keep their original numbers.
Counsel told the court the second set of charges related to delays in providing unique handset unlocking codes to customers who needed them to switch to another provider.
The court heard the telecom watchdog received numerous complaints regarding the matters.
ComReg billing specialist David Murphy told the court that “porting” or transferring a landline number to a new service provider should take one working day.
The sample charges were a subset taken from a significant number of complaints by frustrated customers.
He said a woman, who had switched to Vodafone in late August 2020, had a panic button which required a landline. Despite still being billed, she had no service for three months and was "isolated" during the Covid lockdown.
Another customer complained to ComReg after 25 attempts to get Vodafone to resolve the problem. After three months, he moved back to his previous service provider but was still billed €500 by Vodafone. He did however later receive a refund.
It took another new customer with underlying health conditions two months to have his phone service with his original number set-up. He was said to depend on his landline because he lived in an area with poor mobile coverage.
Similar issues arose in the remaining two cases about transferring landline numbers to Vodafone, and one of the complainants suffered disruption to their business.
Mr Murphy added these issues syphoned competition by making customers less likely to switch providers.
ComReg compliance manager Miriam Kilraine outlined how a significant number of customers had problems obtaining their mobile phone handset unlocking codes from Vodafone. There were two sample counts.
She explained these unique codes were necessary to switch and make their phones operational on a new network.
She said the problem heavily disincentivised customers to change service providers and ComReg believed it caused some of them to abandon the process or change their minds.
Vodafone assured customers it would take no more than 20 days, as in some cases they needed to contact handset manufacturers to get codes. On average, it took 45 days and customers felt "ignored in the process".
Vodafone had a record of previous offences in four prosecutions by ComReg and five brought by the Data Protection Commissioner.
Defence solicitor Michael Twomey asked the court to note complaints about both types of issues dropped by about 70 per cent in the last year.
He said the company, which has two million customers, has improved its processes, co-operated with the investigation and contributed to costs.
Judge Halpin described the offences as serious and rejected the defence plea to apply the Probation of Offenders Act.