Monday, February 25, 2008

Before you call Betamax a scam, read the Terms of Service!

In the last weeks I received many messages from people who want to start a lawsuit against the VoIP company Betamax from Cologne, Germany. They feel betrayed by the mothership of Voipstunt, Voipcheap, Sparvoip, Lowratevoip, Nonoh and other offers. Something must have gone wrong with their billing or they believe that Betamax wrongfully charged too much. Aside from the problem that Betamax themselves are apparently victim of a scam, I can only say that for me everything works flawlessly. But I get the impression that many users don't understand the company's Terms of Service. This morning a Betamax user called Robert wrote:
The company I work for happens to be in Moscow so I call them regularly. Why do they suddenly want to charge me for these calls? It doesn't make any difference whether I call the U.S.A., Italy or Russia. They are all free and perhaps I call Moscow three times a day but perhaps twice a week.

I told him to first look at the website http://backsla.sh/betamax. There you can always see the latest prices and you will realize that with most Betamax companies you can call Russia's landline phones for free, within a Fair Use Policy (FUP) of 300 minutes per week. This FUP seems very fair to me. I never exceed it, so Betamax' normally works like a flatrate for me.

In fact I am very surprised about their cheap prices for Russia, because I know that connections outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow are very expensive to buy in wholesale markets. Therefore e. g. Rebtel users have to pay $0.019 Cents to Moscow and St. Petersburg landlines - but $0.079 Cents to other Russian cities. So Betamax' $0.00 Cent is a great bargain. For the German company it makes a big price difference whether they terminate calls in the U.S.A., Italy or in Russia. Although it might be difficult to explain to the average user like Robert.
Now I see that calls, which were originally free, are now being charged under the 'fair use policy'. This I don't understand.

There can be two reasons for that:
1.) Robert calls for more then 300 minutes per week.

2.) He shares his IP number with other users, so that Betamax thinks that it's only one user. That's what happened at Voxalot, a virtual internet PBX: All Voxalot users had the same IP number to Betamax. Therefore they jointly exceeded the FUP very fast. Voxalot managed to strike an agreement with Betamax to pass the original IP number, so that every user now has his own FUP.

So, if Betamax charges for actual free calls, there might be a technical problem. Otherwise it seems a great bargain to me to get 1.200 minutes per month from Betamax for just €2.50. (Taking into account that that you have to pay €10 every four months to get the €0.00 to Russian landlines.) People should also consider what user satphoneguy wrote in Voxalot's forum:
having lived in many parts of the world I think that a lot of what is happening is relate to cultural differences and expectation of customer service. from what i have read the vast majority of complaints are coming from the USA. here in the USA it is somewhat expected that if you are unhappy with a service or feel deceived by misleading marketing that you should be eligible for refund on what you spent. most American companies do indeed give 100% refunds to their customers no questions asked when they complain. i do know from having lived overseas that is not the business etiquette everyplace. there are a number of reasons why many people may feel deceived since the betamax 'fair use policies' are not very clear. in particular concerning additional charges for use of SIP devices on some services. it is all exasperated in that americans also feel that every company should have a customer service line where they can call with questions(or complaints) or at very least email support with a quick turnaround to response(same day)

i do have to say though that it seems many people who complain about numerous betamax companies continue to try the others. this is very similar to what i dealt with working for a very large retail company - some of the biggest complainers and returners of products for refunds were also some of the biggest shoppers; i would see them on nearly a daily basis.

i personally have never had a billing issue with betamax. although in recent months my only funded account is nonoh; since the rates are so much less for the mobile destinations that i call than with any of the SIP options and i have unlimited calls to NA and most landlines through another provider.

Many people in Europe accept a lousy service, as long as it's cheap. But others expect a great service although they pay nearly nothing. That's just not possible to deliver for a company. Good service always has its price, especially in a country with sky-high wages like Germany. People who want more than just plain phone minutes should subscribe to companies like PhoneGnome, Packet8 or Sipgate which have real hotlines by phone and email for their clients. That's what I also told Robert, who finally admitted:
I suppose, like most people, I never fully read the 'Terms of Use', although in these terms there is no exact reason mentioned and more than that, there is no exact time limit per country or city mentioned where this might be relatively easy as an adder to the price information.

Please always have a look at the small print at the end of every Betamax web page!
* Max 300 minutes per week of free calls, measured over the last 7 days and per unique IP address. Unused free minutes cannot be taken to the following week(s). If limit is exceeded the normal rates apply. With your FREE DAYS you can call for free to all the destinations listed as free! When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply. You can get extra Freedays by buying credit

They say it very clear that free calls are limited to 300 minutes per week and IP address. That's not too difficult to understand, isn't it? What still remains a mistery to me, is the sentence „When you have no FREE DAYS left the normal rates apply“.

What are these normal rates after 300 minutes? I couldn't find them either.

9 comments:

  1. in america we tend to believe that if a sizable number of people believe that a company is a scam or doing something wrong than that is enough no other proof is necessary. the company is a that point under an obligation to prove to the consumers that that those complaining are indeed inaccurate. betamax has not been doing that. if betamax wants to be seen in a 'different light they have a couple choice. one is start providing active customer services either through live phone support with immediate action taken or even through an online forum(this should be completely open to public scrutiny not hidden inside of the voipbuster application). if they do not provide this customer service then they should at least establish an active public relation department with frequent press release at least describing in much greater detail the FUP. perhaps they could also send an email to customers whenever call are denied(or charged) due to FUP restriction with details of exactly why that particular call did not qualify for free calling.

    i have worked in varies retail business for all my life. at every company i worked for as well as with any major telecoms in the USA. a customer complains. they instantly get a 100% refund while the situation is being investigated. we always say that 'the customer is right 100% of the time' betamax is saying the 'customer is wrong.' if you find that your policies are leading to large numbers of customer complaints than you change your policies. if customer are not completely understanding your FUP; than you word your FUP in larger print and in a way that is easier to understand.

    for this consumer it is too late. i have never had any problems from the betamax services i have used. but the simple fact that they have allowed so many others to have such a miserable experience is enough that i will never again consider doing business with them. contrary to popular belief there other alternatives for very inexpensive and free calls. you just have to look a little harder to find them.

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  2. one thing that i have been hearing a lot concerning betamax. they seem to have started to 'blacklist' certain users IP's and they are completely unable to sign up for any of betamax company's services; or in some cases are limiting the type of payment methods available to cdertain users. yet they are not giving any explanation. perhaps if someone from betamax is reading this you could comment on what exactly would prompt you to take such action.

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  3. >What are these normal rates after 300 minutes? I couldn't find them either.

    there is no life after death. it has happen to me twice and last time one month ago, so I still have an account without FREE minutes. What happens is that you just can't call these FREE destination, the TVIconnect gateway just sends you out with SIP 402 or something. Then if you had more than 5 euros - of credit, you have two options, start calling all the mobiles with it to lower it below 5 so you can recharge (you can't if the credit is not below 5) or just forget it and let them expire 5 euros. Which I usually do.

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  4. Markus,

    one of the contributers(tricky1) to this thread on the mysipswitch forum:

    http://www.mysipswitch.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=227&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=20

    seems to believe that betamax is acting in violation of the 'Lockvogelangebot' consumer protection laws in Germany by not allowing users to subscribe to an unlimited number of accounts each with there own separate freedays limit. i know that you are from Germany and likely familiar with the law. what is your take on that? does the 'Lockvogelangebot' prevent sellers from having a one purchase per customer policy on promotional products?

    i do know from living in germany many years ago that there are laws that regulate retail outlets when it comes to offer item at sale prices. i remember thinking that was a very strange concept and never quite understood how preventing a store from selling me something cheaper was 'benefiting consumers' the way the law is described to me this time though does indeed seem to be a benefit to consumers if accurate. so it does not sound all that far fetched to me that possibly there could be something to tricky1's argument.

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  5. i have been using sipdiscount for months now though stopped due to the fact im into voipdiscount since then and im on my seconde year now. no problem or whatsoever except that fire incident.
    the normal rates link normally part of the fine prints.i haven't check all betamax services but i can find that link the likes of voipdiscount,voipbuster,freecall,voipcheap and sipdiscount.

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  6. i have been using sipdiscount for months now though stopped due to the fact im into voipdiscount since then and im on my seconde year now. no problem or whatsoever except that fire incident.
    the normal rates link normally part of the fine prints.i haven't check all betamax services but i can find that link the likes of voipdiscount,voipbuster,freecall,voipcheap and sipdiscount.

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  7. Dear Markus,

    I truly appreciate your thoughts about Betamax in this article. We always blame others at first and then after getting truth (which we always try to ignore) we keep mum. Same thing happens here.

    You are doing well job with your information.

    Keep going and growing for success,

    Ali
    For talkways.net
    Authorized Reseller for Betamax VoIP.

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  8. Re: the comment above about things being offered at sale prices:

    Surely the law is not preventing companies from offering reduced prices, but regulating companies falsely pretending that they are?

    When Betamax send an email that call rates to a list of certain destinations have been reduced, this has always been true.

    They don't bother to tell you when promotional offers have ended, but not many companies do this either.


    As for the queries about what are Betamax tariffs after the freedays have run out, most of these are 1 cent a minute, plus VAT

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  9. The "normal rates" of all betamax products can be discovered in one of two ways, depending on the Betamax service. A link to the normal rates is available either in the fine-print itself (as in voipbusterpro), or in the FAQ, which (for example in nonoh) is reachable through the "Instructions" link on the main page.

    Within the FAQ, there is a question:
    "What's the deal with the Freedays?" The answer to this question within the FAQ has a link to the "normal rates" of the service.

    The normal rates are important because they apply when you run out of freedays or when you've exceeded the number of minutes mentioned in the Fair Use Policy of the service (200 or 300).

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