Best Company | New Zealand Business Magazine

One NZ fined millions of Dollars for "Deceptive" Marketing

Consumers allegedly mislead and Court Agrees

FibreX is not Fibre to the Home (FTTH) despite One NZ alleged attempts to pitch it.

One NZ | Vodafone | fined millions by NZ Court

In a decisive move highlighting the importance of truthful advertising, telecommunications leader One NZ, known previously as Vodafone NZ, has faced a substantial financial penalty. Under the judicial oversight of Justice Simon Moore in the High Court, this development marks a firm stand against misleading commercial behavior. The article delves into One NZ’s misrepresentation of its FibreX broadband service, exploring the implications for the telecom industry in New Zealand.

Backstory of the Dispute

Dating back to 2016, One NZ launched FibreX, a service based on coaxial cable. One NZ’s promotional activities, however, caused confusion among consumers, leading them to believe FibreX was equivalent to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband, known for its superior quality. Moreover, One NZ incorrectly insinuated that FibreX was the sole option for broadband in select locales, limiting consumer choice.

Misleading Actions

For two years, from 2016 to 2018, One NZ’s advertising was found to be deceptive. Accused by New Zealand’s Commerce Commission of 18 violations under the Fair Trading Act of 1986, One NZ faced charges of falsely presenting FibreX as FTTH and as the only service choice for some customers.

Judicial Proceedings and Verdict

The initial ruling by the District Court in April 2021 saw One NZ ordered to pay $2.25 million. Both One NZ and the Commerce Commission filed appeals; One NZ aimed to challenge the convictions and reduce the fine, while the Commission pursued a heftier penalty reflecting the misconduct’s severity.

High Court’s Determination

The High Court dismissed One NZ’s appeal against its convictions and upheld the Commerce Commission’s call for a stricter fine. Justice Moore underscored the need for a penalty that would serve as a strong deterrent, leading to an increased fine of $3.675 million.

Consumer Repercussions

The misleading promotions of One NZ had a profound effect on consumers, misinforming them regarding FibreX’s capabilities and impeding their ability to make educated decisions on broadband services. This not only put consumers at a disadvantage but also disturbed market competition, negatively affecting providers of authentic FTTH services.

Market Dynamics

One NZ’s deceptive advertising granted it an unmerited advantage against competitors with true FTTH offerings. This distortion of market competition hampered the New Zealand government’s Ultra-fast Broadband initiative, which promotes FTTH adoption.

Significance of the Judgment

This verdict represents a victory for consumer protection. John Small, the Commerce Commission’s Chairman, emphasized the essentiality of accuracy and transparency in company-customer communication. The substantial fine reiterates the seriousness of One NZ’s actions and acts as a cautionary tale for similar companies.

One NZ’s Post-Ruling Position

Post-judgment, One NZ voiced their disappointment and disagreement with the Court’s ruling, deliberating over possible next steps without additional commentary.

Looking Ahead

The High Court’s ruling serves as a sharp reminder of the vital role that honest marketing plays in business ethics and the potential consequences of consumer deception. It reaffirms the significant role regulatory authorities like the Commerce Commission play in upholding fair trading principles and safeguarding consumer interests.

Is the Fine Sufficient?

The landmark decision against One NZ serves as a cautionary note to all businesses in New Zealand: maintain integrity and provide clear, truthful information to consumers. This ruling does more than hold One NZ accountable; it signals an industry-wide expectation for honesty and may herald a new era of transparency in New Zealand’s broadband services sector.

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