If Ofcom plans will really push up prices, networks must speak out

Elizabeth Fournier

FONE aside, mobile phone network providers were strangely reluctant to criticise Ofcom’s proposals that customers should be allowed to get out of contracts scot free if prices are hiked.

While Ofcom claims it is reacting to customer complaints, Vodafone – which stuck its head above the parapet to fight back – said new rules would cancel out any benefits by triggering higher up-front fees.

 There’s no doubt that the penalties to break contracts are oppressive – if your operator ups fees two months into a 24-month deal you’re more likely to keep fishing than cut bait when almost two years’ of charges awaits. But are customers really angry about price rises, or just annoyed at all the new, better deals and handsets that seem to appear the minute they commit? The £150m cost that Which? says consumers incurred from fee rises last year is hardly outlandish – less than £2 per mobile, according to Ofcom figures that claim there are close to 81.6m handsets in the UK.

Best intentions aside, seeing how reluctant the public is to change bank accounts (just seven per cent switched between 2008-10) there doesn’t seem to be a good case for imposing the same rights on contracts. If Vodafone is right about price increases, the other network providers need to shout about it too. This is one battle worth fighting.