EIRCOM is hiking its phone charges and making it harder for customers to leave.
The Consumers Association of Ireland last night accused the company of heaping sneaky new charges and conditions on loyal customers.
Eircom yesterday announced increases of up to 60pc in some of their phone charges.
And customers will now have to give one month's notice if they want to quit the service.
The company is also adding two hours onto their definition of "daytime", when more expensive peak-time rates apply -- it will run from 7am to 7pm, instead of 8am to 6pm as it is at present.
Call set-up fees -- the minimum charge for connecting a call -- will rise by 60pc from 5.95c to 9.5c, although this will not apply to bundled calls included in payment plans.
And the cost of a one-minute call to directory enquiries 11811 will rise from €1.68 to €1.99 -- an increase of 18pc.
Eircom has also introduced a new cancellation policy which means customers may have to give one month's written notice, by email, letter or fax, to cancel their service.
Eircom claimed that the net effect on customers' bills would be an average increase of 3.1pc, and more than 70pc of subscribers would not be affected if they only used the call minutes included with their bundle.
Spokesman Paul Bradley said that customers who wished to avoid these increases could switch to their bundled packages, which would offer them better value.
"We are cognisant that putting up prices is challenging in these times, and we do not want to lose customers, but we have worked very hard to ensure these increases are as small as possible," he said.
But Consumers' Association Chief Executive Dermott Jewell accused the company of putting shareholders' interests ahead of its customers.
"They are determined to extract as much money as possible from loyal customers.
"These changes will hugely affect people who have built their lifestyles around making cheaper calls after 6pm. They're also making it harder for those who wish to leave," he said.
Debt-ridden Eircom remains the country's largest fixed-line phone operator, with around 800,000 residential and 150,000 business customers, although this has fallen from 1.1 million customers a few years ago.
The regulator ComReg said that while Eircom was entitled to increase its call charges, consumers who had the terms and conditions of their contracts changed had the option to leave the service without any penalty or minimum waiting period.
For a customer making 100 minutes a month each of local calls and calls to mobiles, and 30 minutes of national calls, Eircom plans came in at 19th and 20th place at over €46 per month, while the cheapest provider was Pure Zeus at €39.99, followed by Hive Telecom at €40.01 and Pure Vesta at €40.44.