The telecommunication watchdog has imposed several strict overhauls on Australia’s 1,000 providers that should make it easier to understand phone plans and avoid bill shock.
The Australian Communication and Media Authority (AMCA) delivered its final report on the telecommunication industry’s pricing and billing strategies after an 18 month assessment.
Within three months, the ABC report 60,000 new complaints were made to the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsmen (TIO), up 40 per cent from the year earlier.
Vodafone’s head of customer service, Cormac Hodgkinson, recognised the number of complaints is too high.
“As an industry, and within Vodafone itself, we need to work very hard to reduce that level of complaints,” he said.
According to the ACMA, there are two primary concerns: the first is advertising that is not clear and often misleading, with the second being bill shock. It believes both issues stem from confusing phone plans and are therefore recommending telcos introduce plans that are easier to interpret and compare.
“Industry has agreed to disclose the cost of a two-minute call to another mobile in Australia and that’s using the highest rate charged under that plan plus flag fall,” said ACMA spokesman Clare O’Reilly, who also led the inquiry.
“So it would be the cost of a two-minute call, the cost of sending a standard text message, and the cost of downloading one megabyte of data in Australia.”
Telcos also have to send customers a warning when they’re approaching their plan’s limit, letting them know when they’ll be charged extra. Managing that recommendation will be a bit trickier for telcos, since the system used by most don’t track real-time usage, with some being updated 48 later.
“Industry has told us that they cannot provide real-time data at the moment, at least they can’t across the industry,” Ms O’Reilly said.
“It would just be too costly to try and change process systems to be able to do that, so we’ve moved away from that. But we want them to tell consumers how old their data is so a consumer actually knows what information they are relying on.”
The ACMA is giving the Communication Alliance, the industry’s’ peak body, responsibility of the matter, expecting its Telecommunication Protection Code to be brought up to date or face regulation.
Despite public outcry that the ACMA hasn’t imposed hard enough reform, some telcos seem to be responding to the recommendations already.
Optus is ahead of other major telcos, vowing to send relevant notifications of increased voice and data usage to their customers hoping to cushion bill shock.
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