Courts urged to 'fast-track' text provider case

 

THE INDEPENDENT regulator of premium rate telecommunications services has urged the courts to "fast-track" a legal challenge by premium mobile text provider Realm Communications to his decision that a 12-month suspension from sending messages be imposed on it for breaches of its code of practice.

Regulator Pat Breen said the matter was urgent because of the public interest in protecting consumers from a service which "seriously misled" consumers and to protect his supervisory role. He was very concerned about any significant delay in implementing his decision due to lengthy court proceedings challenging it, he added.

The suspension over several alleged breaches of Realm's code was due to come into effect on August 29th but has been deferred pending the outcome of Realm's action against the Regulator of Premium Rate Telecommunications Services (RegTel).

RegTel secured an order yesterday from Mr Justice Peter Kelly transferring the case to the Commercial Court, which fast-tracks big business cases. The judge also made directions for the exchange of legal documents between the sides. Realm Communications, Castle Drive, City West Business Park, Dublin, did not object to the proceedings being transferred.

In an affidavit, Mr Breen said Realm managing director Tim Higgins, when seeking an injunction last September restraining the suspension, had said the sanctions proposed would, if applied, wipe out some 80 per cent of Realm's business, most of its nine permanent employees and some 50 or 60 part-time contractors.

Mr Breen said he believed Realm continued to generate considerable profits from its Fone Credit service. Realm had made profits of €2.56 million from the service in the year to April 30th, 2006, and €1.9 million in the year to April 30th, 2007. Realm's accounts also revealed it had a retained profit of some €7 million to the year ended April 30th, 2007.

Given Mr Higgins's claim that 80 per cent of its profits would be wiped out if the suspension came into effect, the regulator said it was reasonable to assume 80 per cent of the profits were attributable to services which the regulator had deemed to have been operated in breach of the code.

The regulator decided on the suspension on August 29th after upholding a series of complaints against Realm. Mr Breen found Realm's mobile phone credit services, FoneClub/Mobile Mania, breached the terms of its code.

Among other findings, he found the prize draws run by Realm involved a widespread and systemic attempt to mislead customers and were unlawful.

He said key words in messages were "utterly confusing", promotional messages were unclear, there was a failure to properly inform consumers of the true pricing, it was difficult to unsubscribe and Realm had issued WAP push messages in breach of a notice issued by the regulator.