10 July 2000

"Precise, transparent and unequivocal advertising is the best way to supply customers with the information they need to compare prices and products and make informed choices." So opined Italy's anti-trust authority on introducing a new regulation compelling cellphone advertisers to base their price comparisons on a common standard.

Italian consumers are currently bemused by ads quoting rates based on widely differing criteria: peak-hour prices, non-peak hour prices, weekend rates, rates per minute, per second, per tenth of a minute, per ten-minute block, both with value-added taxes included and without. The morass can be further complicated by small print showing that a quoted rate is valid only for the first days after service started, or only for a brief period of low cellular traffic.

The watchdog has also ruled that all rates advertised must be inclusive of value-added taxes. Its rulings have been greeted with enthusiasm by consumer groups, less so by Italy’s four mobile networks who deem them “unnecessary”. Complains Vittorio Colao, CEO of Omnitel, Italy’s second largest operator: "You can not say that in a country of thirty-four million cellular users that nobody understands the pricing structure,".

The Italian mobile phone market, where cellphone accounts outnumber fixed-line accounts, is the world's second largest after the USA.

News source: Advertising Age - International Daily