Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today announced proposed regulatory intervention aimed at helping consumers avoid excessive international roaming charges. The announcement is encouraging news to a nation with one of the highest proportions of international travellers in the world.
Feds make a move
Conroy told the ABC he will direct the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to “put in place a standard which will see mobile phone companies notifying their customers when they're overseas of the cost of a call, the cost of sending a text, the cost of going online, and giving them the option to opt out".
Such a measure would have proved handy for the many consumers who have contacted CHOICE in recent years with tales of overseas mobile phone activity that ratcheted up triple-digit charges.
Conroy said a joint study with New Zealand has revealed that the mark-up for calls between Australia and New Zealand as compared to domestic calls has been as high as 1000%.
Too good to be true?
There is cause for scepticism about seeing any real improvement on the back of a discussion paper, which is how the plan will be unveiled.
They central question is whether ACMA has the will or the capability to impose a uniform set of rules on the hyper-complicated world of telecommunications.
ACMA, whose remit is broad, has a less than stellar track record when it comes to making sure mobile pricing plans are clear and comprehensible and that consumers understand what they’re being charged for and when.
A bigger stick
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has developed a strong case that lack of enforcement powers is the problem.
Last month ACCAN Chief Executive Teresa Corbin said the introduction of a new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code represents the best set of consumer protections yet - including a “Critical Information Summary” that lists all pricing information in a standard form and warnings when customers have used 50%, 85% and 100% of their monthly allowance.
But the measures will mean little if they’re not effectively enforced.
“The big issue here is that the ACMA does not at present have strong enough powers to enforce the Code. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, for example, has much stronger powers and its issuing of fines has sent a strong message to the telecommunications industry that its advertising cannot be misleading.”
We applaud the move by government to tackle what has become a systemic and costly problem for consumers but agree that discussion papers are one thing and enforcement another.
For more news, see Consumer news.