'Unlimited' Telecommunication Service Offerings - Misleading Advertising

Author:Mr Ricardo Henriques (PBBR.A)
Profession:Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance (GALA)

Recent case law from Portuguese courts addressed the issue of the use of the expression "unlimited" for telecommunications services offerings advertisements, involving the Portuguese Directorate-General of Consumer (hereinafter DGC) and the telecommunications operator MEO - Serviço de Telecomunicações, S.A. (hereinafter MEO).

The beginning of this dispute was a DGC administrative decision which imposed two fines in the amount of € 10.000,00 to the refereed operator, that were latter appealed to the Portuguese Appeal Court by MEO.

The use of the referred expression led DGC to start an administrative procedure against MEO, given that the term "unlimited" in a commercial offering could infringe the principle of truthfulness. In fact, it was considered that the use of the term "unlimited" in an advertising message could mislead the consumer as to the final monthly amount payable for the communication services.

In court, MEO argued that "(...) the expression "unlimited" would always be understood as an "overstatement advertising" or "commercial trick", since it is clear that there would always be limits on the consumption in matter, at the very least because of the time limits (24 hours a day!), which would make them immediately limited, and the use of this advertising technique of exaggeration in order to attract the public's attention to enhance the product qualities do not give it a misleading character, because it is understandable by consumers it is not able to mislead them. "

Following the opinion of the DGC, as advocated in the administrative procedure, the Public Prosecutor argued that the Responsible Use Policy made available by MEO was insufficient to clarify the public regarding the meanings of the term "unlimited", since the remaining information was "visible on separate screens where the consumer would be...

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