State-backed telecom provider Ooredoo has complained publicly about a decision from the country’s communications ministry, ictQATAR, to suspend all advertising for its “4G For Free Forever” campaign.
In a statement released to the media over the weekend, and published on its website, ictQATAR explained its decision to force the company to halt its 4G marketing:
“The Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) has conducted its own analysis of the ‘4G For Free Forever’ campaign and has concluded that the advertisement is in fact misleading and it creates the perception that the 4G service and data are for free.
According to tariff filing, it is only the 4G key that is free and the subscribers are to be charged for data as per the data tariff lodged and approved by CRA.”
Ooredoo has been instructed to remove all current promotional materials for its 4G campaign, and has been told that it must mention the phrases “key service” and “terms and conditions apply” in any new advertisements for the service.
Ooredoo (formerly known as Qtel) has refuted the claims, stating that it hasn’t received any complaints from customers who feel they’ve been misled, and arguing that it has done its utmost to “brief customers on the service in a fully-transparent way” via its shops, contact center, and social media campaigns.
Ooredoo has also taken the unusual step of complaining about the manner in which ictQATAR had chosen to act.
In a statement, it argues that the ministry’s decision to announce the suspension of its advertisements via a press release, “and to aggressively pursue this press release with the local media with further negative comment against Ooredoo,” goes against “all previous precedent.”
The company claims that ictQATAR recently upheld complaints about misleading advertising against two other telecom operators, but did not choose to publicize these decisions.
It also says that it is planning to “make public the process and policy failures” which have, according to Ooredoo, “prevented customers receiving the full benefit of new services, and have impeded the penetration of new technology across Qatar.”
Ooredoo ends its statement by calling for a “public discussion” about ictQATAR’s regulatory role:
“Ooredoo believes it should be an impartial arbiter, applying fair rules for the benefit of the people of Qatar, and applying these rules equally and without prejudice,” it says.
ictQATAR was established by Emiri decree in 2004. A statement on its website details its role as “an independent and fair regulator (protecting) consumers and businesses from unfair practices as Qatar transitions to a competitive telecoms market.”
This is not the first time ictQATAR has stepped in to censure Ooredoo.
In 2011, the ministry ruled that the company (then named Qtel) had to shut down all Qtel Virgin Mobile-branded services. In its ruling, the authority said it had found that Qtel Virgin Mobile services were marketed to the public “in a manner that was misleading or deceptive.”
And in May 2012, ictQATAR ordered Qtel to clarify “confusing and/or incorrect information” about Blackberry service rates after unexpectedly high charges for data usage appeared on customers’ bills.
Ooredoo and ictQATAR have not yet responded to our requests for further comment.