BRASÍLIA – Telephone companies will be able to reduce the number of stores with in-person service and sell plans that only offer digital service to solve customers’ day-to-day problems. On the other hand, operators will have to reduce unwanted calls to consumers’ phones.
The new rules are foreseen in the General Regulation on Consumer Rights for Telecommunications Services (RGC)approved by the Board of Directors of the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel) on October 27th.
Currently, companies such as Tim, Vivo and Claro must maintain at least one in-person service store for each region with 100 thousand inhabitants or more, with an additional unit for every 400 thousand inhabitants. With the new rule, they will only be required to have one in-person service location in each region that has 100,000 active users, regardless of the number of inhabitants.
In practice, the number of physical stores could decrease from 2,800 to 789 across the country, according to Anatel’s own projections. In other words, in many locations, consumers will depend exclusively on 0800 or virtual assistance to resolve their problems.
For Luã Cruz, a specialist in Telecommunications and Digital Rights at the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection (Idec), the decision is worrying. “Many people have difficulty expressing their situation over the phone or online. The person will want to resolve the situation and probably won’t be able to. This is already happening nowadays and it will get worse,” he says.
According to Cruz, Anatel’s decision was taken even after Idec’s opposing positions. He said that the Agency introduced the new rule because maintaining in-person stores would be very costly for operators.
The rapporteur of the process at Anatel, counselor Vicente Bandeira de Aquino Neto, proposed a middle ground to maintain the obligation of face-to-face service for 50 thousand users, but was unsuccessful.
Plans may have 100% digital service, but with limited use of robots
With the new rules, companies will be able to sell cell phone or internet plans that only offer digital service to solve consumers’ day-to-day problems. If the customer opts for this plan, which may even be cheaper, they will not be entitled to face-to-face service. It is a model similar to that of 100% digital banks. “In practice, consumers will have to pay an expensive plan if they want in-person service,” notes Cruz.
Operators, on the other hand, will have to limit robot service to all customers. The model “type 1 if you want this, type 2 if you want that” without the option “type 9 to speak to our attendants”, or even assistance only via WhatsApp, increased during the covid-19 pandemic and continued with the dismissal of employees who used to serve customers over the phone. Now, telcos must have human attendants 24 hours a day for urgent demands and from 6am to 10pm every day for other requests.
Customer may choose not to receive telemarketing calls from the operator
Another controversy addressed by Anatel’s new rules were telemarketing calls selling products and services to consumers. The customer can choose not to receive calls, with this clause expressed in the contract, and the “do not disturb me” option must be available and accessible on the companies’ websites.
Anatel assesses that not all telemarketing calls are abusive, despite this practice being one of the biggest complaints from consumers. In response to Idec in the process that originated the regulation, the agency stated that “some consumers are interested in receiving this type of call, as they can obtain economic benefits or offers that are more advantageous to them.” In other words, in Anatel’s opinion, there are customers who like to receive telemarketing calls.
Wanted by EstadãoAnatel and Conexis Brasil Digital, the union that represents mobile phone companies, did not comment on the new rules until the publication of this report.