THIS week the Consumer Council of Fiji would like to offer some simple advice and tips on subscribing to an internet service or dealing with an internet service provider (ISP).
Internet services have evolved all over the world and in Fiji to become an important part of everyday life.
For Fiji connectivity between geographical isolated communities and businesses is essential. Our reliance on internet services has become just as essential as water and electricity.
We live in a digital world where we rely more on new information communications technologies (ICTs) such as the internet and mobile phones. Emailing and communicating via the internet either through social websites or communications applications like Skype have become the most convenient, fast and preferred forms of communication whether it be for personal or business matters. Some of the common usages today are:
* Work (at the office, home or on-the-go)
* Accessing government services
* Social networking
* Paying bills
The list will surely go on for all age groups of consumers based on their needs. Students in primary school to a retiree have come to depend on the internet for information.
But how to get the best deal and ensure you are not duped into buying unfair plan is what you need to be aware of.
Firstly there are more internet service providers (ISPs) in Fiji today as compared to mid-1990s when we only had one ISP in the form of TFLs Internet Services Fiji which evolved to become Connect.
Basically consumers have two platforms to chose from - fixed line internet and wireless. Fixed line internet, now offered as standard ADSL or broadband, is only accessible if you have a TFL line in your home. Connect is the only company in Fiji that provides fixed line internet. The other choice is wireless where you access the internet network via a wireless modem with basically two types of modems - USB dongle (think Flashnet and Digimodem) or a desktop wireless modem bigger than the dongle and mostly used with desktop computers or with a small office network.
Internet service packages come in two forms - postpay and prepay - just like your mobile phone. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and there is also the question of affordability. (We will look at the pros and cons at another time).
What to look out for when you subscribe to an internet service
If you intend to subscribe to a postpay service, there is a process that you need to go through such as providing a whole list of information and details, paying a security deposit, installation fee, exit fee (which locks consumers), monthly bill or other charges levied by the ISP. There are important items and certain rules that you need to follow as a responsible consumer.
Get all the facts on the package you are interested in
This means a very careful read of the advertisement or information provided by the ISP. Look for the terms and conditions as these are often hidden in very small print compared to the larger promotional jargon used in the advertisement or brochure. If possible go to the ISPs websites - most will have all the terms and conditions on their sites including information which you normally wont find in the advertisement or brochures. You can even go directly to the ISP office and speak to a customer representative on the packages that are offered by them so that you are able to make informed decisions.
Start-up costs and security deposit
Most ISPs charge some startup costs before you can use their service. These can be in the form of the price of the modem which you may be buying outright i.e. it becomes yours. Some ISPs rent their modems to customers in which case you pay rent every month for the device. However, in Fiji this is becoming rare as most ISPs sell their modems outright to customers often with prepaid customers paying a high price, while postpaid or contracted customers pay a lower subsidised price. Look out for security deposits - ask the ISP how much you need to pay and what exactly it is for. Security deposits have become a controversial issue. The money collected as security deposits are kept by the ISP who may be earning interest on it and these security deposits are rarely used by ISPs as customers get disconnected for defaulting on their bills, instead of utilising the deposit as a means of recovering the arrears incurred by the consumers.
Beware of data caps
Most ISPs in Fiji put a data cap on their postpaid packages that is a download limit. What is of concern to the Consumer Council is that ISPs follow a use or lose policy, i.e. if you dont exhaust your data cap for a particular billing period, i.e. a month, you lose or forfeit the amount of data you have not used. The council urges appropriate authorities to reform policies so that the consumers are able to get the value for their money. Consumers should be able to fully utilise the data cap provided, rather than paying for data they have not used which is unfair and unreasonable. In the meantime, the council would like to call for consumers to strictly monitor their data cap so that they are not taken for a ride by the unscrupulous service providers.
* This is a weekly contribution from the Consumer Council of Fiji.