StarHub error prompts online petition

Customers want telco to honor mistake in its recent broadband promotion; StarHub says it's addressing each case individually.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

SINGAPORE--A group of irate consumers have started an online petition calling for StarHub to honor promises it had made in a recent broadband marketing stint.

Last November, local telco StarHub ran a promotion offering customers a free HP Compaq Presario notebook (model V3131TU) when they signed up for a 28-month MaxOnline Premium or MaxOnline Ultimate subscription plan. The promotion ended in December 2006.

Its marketing flyers had indicated that the laptops will come with Intel's wireless Centrino chip. However, when subscribers finally received their notebooks, they realized that their machines were not Centrino-certified, according to Alvin Lee, a StarHub customer who started the online petition.

Instead, the laptops were equipped with wireless processors from Broadcom--not Intel--Lee said, adding that customers who signed up for the StarHub service were led to believe that their free notebooks would be Centrino-certified.

He said: "After speaking to staff at both StarHub [and HP], I am under the impression that neither party wishes to address the concerns of StarHub customers, nor make an exception to deliver what was impressed upon them as 'Intel Centrino Duo Mobile Technology' laptops."

The petition, which garnered 190 signatories at press time, called for StarHub to either replace the wireless Internet and Bluetooth adapters, or replace the affected notebooks with an equivalent notebook of the same value, or offer a full rebate or compensation to customers who want to return the laptop and cancel their MaxOnline contracts.

A spokesperson from StarHub told ZDNet Asia that the Centrino name and logo was inadvertently included in the technical specifications of the laptops, as listed in the advertising materials. She said that the telco and HP are offering an apology for the error.

"The original text should have read 'Intel Core Duo Mobile Technology' instead of 'Intel Centrino Duo Mobile Technology'", the spokesperson said. "We would like to highlight that this is an incorrect use of a branding term [for the wireless processor], and that HP assures us the laptops our customers are receiving have the same functionality and that all other details in the promotions are correct."

"So, the customer is largely getting what was advertised. In fact, the majority of the customers we have spoken to have accepted this," she said.

According to StarHub, only "a very small percentage" of customers have contacted StarHub or HP on this matter, and reconciliatory steps have been taken to resolve it.

"We have since contacted these customers who were satisfied with the explanation. We assure all our customers that StarHub and HP take their feedback seriously and are eager to address their concerns. Those customers who have further technical enquiries can contact HP at starhub.tech@hp.com," the company spokesperson said.

The total value of the promotion, including pricing discounts and a free HP laptop, is worth more than S$2,000 (US$1,300). There are payable options available for customers to upgrade the specifications of the notebook in question, and most customers who signed up for the promotion have opted for the upgrade packages and have "accepted our apology and clarification", StarHub said.

"We will continue to work directly with any customer to address their needs on an individual basis," she said.

Legal perspective
According to Han Wah Teng, a lawyer at local law firm Keystone Law, consumers do have recourse against misrepresentations in Singapore.

"In the past [Digiland] case, the vendor was not liable as the customers were aware of the mistakes when making the purchase. In most cases, this would have been hard for the vendor to prove," Han said.

On the other hand, Han added, in a case involving Raffles Town Club (RTC), customers convinced the presiding judge that they should be compensated for misrepresentations contained in brochures--although they were unable to back out of their obligation to buy the memberships. In the lawsuit, 4,895 members sued the RTC for misleading them into thinking the RTC was an exclusive club with 5,000 to 7,000 members when in reality, it had about 19,000 members.

For more information on possible remedies and other issues related to their purchasing rights, consumers can refer to the Consumer Protection (Free Trading) Act which was enacted in 2004, according to Han.

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