Watchdog Urges Consumers To "Review Mobile Plans'

Written by Oonagh Reidy     21/03/2014 | 11:32 | Category: INDUSTRY

Consumer watchdog urges consumers to review phone and internet plans, as new report shows 'value included' isn't all its cracked up to be.

Watchdog Urges Consumers To "Review Mobile Plans
Consumers might be receiving less included value in their mobile plans for the same price point, a new report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, released today, shows. 

While there has been a downward trend in telco's prices, the pace of reductions has slowed in recent years. In 2012-13  prices fell by just 1.5 per cent in real terms.  

Some telco's have changed or cut the amount of calls, SMS and data inclusions without cutting the price of the plan. That's according to the ACCC Annual Telecommunications Reports for 2012-13, tabled in Parliament, today.  

"With the widespread use of included value plans in the telecommunications sector, we urge all customers to take the time to review their plans to see if they are getting the best deal," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

Customers should ask their telco for a 'Critical Information Summary' to make it easier to compare different plans on a like-for-like basis.

"During 2012-13, the headline price points for mobile plans did not change significantly, but the amount of included value was adjusted for some plans," the report warned. 

"Mobile network operators appear to be rebalancing some of their plans to reduce the data allowance at some price points." 

This makes it difficult for consumers to know if they have the best plan to suit their needs. 

The most dramatic price reductions were for international calls from a landline, which fell 21 per cent, and calls to a mobile from a landline, fell 12 per cent. 

Mobile telcos are also making changes to ancillary charges, like excess data usage and international roaming fees, to attract and retain customers, the report said. 

Vodafone, Telstra and Optus have all reduced roaming rates in a bid to retain customers, fed up of being ripped off by the massive fees all three historically charged. 

Recently, Optus changed the way it charged for voice calls on its post-paid plans; offering its customers a number of call minutes rather than a dollar amount of calls.  

This may make it easier to understand how many voice calls an Optus user can make. 

But non-price factors, such as network quality and customer service, are also becoming important sources of competition. 

However, the good news is consumers made fewer complaints about telecommunications services in 2012-13 compared to recent years as the incidence of bill shock appears to be on the wane. 

Complaints to the ACCC about telcos services fell 30 per cent, while complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) fell to the lowest level in five years. 

Complaints about billing and payments decreased almost 20%, and customer service complaints also dropped. 

Aussies are also consuming more mobile data than ever - data downloaded via the internet (excluding from handsets) for the June 2013 quarter jumped 60 per cent compared to June 2012. 

"It is pleasing to see a significant reduction in the number of complaints reported to the ACCC and Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman this year, but more work still needs to be done," Mr Sims said. 

Aussies also pay more than most other countries for fixed broadband, possibly due to geography and a lack of alternative  wholesale fixed services, and there's now twice as many mobile phone services than landline phones in use here, the report also showed.