One of Australia's major publishing houses, Prentice Hall of Australia Pty Ltd, has taken out corrective advertising and is offering consumers compensation after concerns raised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over a promotional offer by Prentice Hall which represented that access to the Internet was free when, in fact, a one-off registration fee of $25 had to be paid.

Prentice Hall has offered the ACCC enforceable undertakings under section 87B of the Trade Practices Act after the ACCC alleged that the company had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in publishing the 1995 and 1996 editions of Berny Goodheart and Frank Crawfords, OzInternet: A Guide to Connecting to the Internet in Australia . Representations made in the Guide indicated that a customer could obtain free access to the internet through a disk contained in the Guide, however it did not disclose that there was a $25 registration fee payable prior to obtaining the access, and that the access, in relation to the offer made in the 1995 Guide, was restricted to off-peak periods.

The ACCC also alleged that Prentice Hall further mislead consumers by representing that consumers were restricted in obtaining a refund for the Guide.

After conducting an investigation, the ACCC concluded that Prentice Hall had engaged in misleading conduct that breached the Trade Practices Act.

As a result of the ACCC's action, Prentice Hall has signed legally enforceable undertakings that it will:

  • recall the Guide to correct the offending representations;
  • publish corrective advertisements in major Australian newspapers in each Australian State and Territory;
  • invite consumers who believe they were mislead by the Guide to apply to Prentice Hall for either: a refund of the Guide, if they did not pay the registration fee; or a refund of the registration fee, if they paid this fee; and
  • introduce an ACCC approved trade practices compliance program, and a complaints handling system consistent with the Australian Standard.

While telecommunications is an emerging industry, especially services related to the Internet, and as such is a priority area for the ACCC, companies need to be aware of their obligations and responsibilities to consumers to provide those consumers with accurate information to allow them to make an informed choice," ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today. "As more and more consumers become exposed to the Internet, the necessity for adequate and accurate information becomes paramount.