Optus has been ordered by the Victorian Supreme Court to allow customers who signed up to a mobile contract from January 14 this year to escape their contract if they feel that Optus' advertising about the size of its mobile network was misleading.
The order came yesterday after the company's advertising for its mobile network coverage was ruled to be misleading in February. Telstra took Optus to court seeking to have an ad for its mobile network coverage pulled off the air. The ad placed the two population coverage percentages of Telstra and Optus in a map of Australia.
At the time, Justice James Elliott ruled in Telstra's favour, finding that the ad did infer geographical coverage whilst talking about population coverage.
"When viewed collectively, taking into account the contents of the advertisement as a whole, the dominant message conveyed is that the figures of 98.5 percent and 99.3 percent have a relationship with coverage concerning the width and breadth of Australia, within the boundaries of Australia as depicted on the map," he said.
Optus has since withdrawn the ad, and issued a new ad that refers specifically to population size, and compares Telstra and Optus' population coverage in boxes instead of a map of Australia.
In the relief ruling yesterday, Elliott noted that Optus had issued new ads, but did not correct the misleading information in the previous ad. As a result, the court has ordered that in the next seven days, Optus should send letters out to every customer who signed onto a contract since the ad began airing, detailing the court's findings, and offering the customer 28 days to get out of their contract at no fee.
If the customer got a handset as part of their contract, the customer will need to return the device to Optus, however.
Additionally, Optus will this month be required to run ads in The Australian, as well as other metropolitan and regional newspapers where the initial advertisement ran, as well as their websites.
Optus will also be required to put up notices in its stores detailing the ruling, and will need to include information on the ruling on its mobile phones page, its home page, and its plans page for a month commencing from tomorrow.
A spokesperson for Optus said the company was considering its options.
"While we're disappointed in the court's ruling, Optus remains committed to the strength of our network," the spokesperson said.
"We have been consistent and transparent in how we communicate the less than 1 percent difference in the population reach of the Optus mobile network compared to Telstra's, and these clear facts have not been in dispute."