The Federal Court of Australia has found ISP, Dataline.net.au Pty Ltd, guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct against customers.
In a judgement dated November 3 and filed in Queensland, Justice Kiefel declared a related company, Australis Internet, and World Publishing Systems, had also breached the Trade Practices Act. In addition, he ruled Dataline's managing director, John Russell, was knowingly involved in the misleading acts of all three. Several staff also admitted they were aware of the company's deceptive conduct.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) initially lodged proceeding against the companies in 2001. According to the industry watchdog's spokesperson, it pursued action after receiving numerous email complaints about Dataline. Both Dataline and Australis are in liquidation. According to the court's findings, Dataline engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by representing that:
*Dataline was entitled to make charges against customers' credit card accounts where it had no authority or contractual basis for doing so;
*Dataline was entitled to make charges with respect to its customers' use of its Internet services when the customer had ceased to access them;
*Customers could purchase unlimited access to Dataline's services, when Dataline had limited the ability of customers to access those services; and
*Dataline would provide skilled technical support at all times when it did not have the intention of doing so.
Dataline was also declared to have engaged in unconscionable acts by not permitting its virtual ISP customers to gain legal advice on contracts with the company. It had threatened to disconnect their services if they failed to sign further agreements.
Russell has been restrained from engaging in resale price maintenance with other providers. He has also been penalised and is required to pay ACCC court costs.
"The results have shown we were right to take this action," an ACCC spokesperson said. "We're unable to say much more as we are still in the appeals timeframe."