Thursday, 04 July 2013 06:10

Phone roam moan – now Albo’s on the case Featured

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New Communications Minister Anthony Albanese has joined the increasing chorus of voices against the Great Telco International Roaming Scam. Awareness of the costs is one thing, but still nothing from telcos on actually reducing the charges.

A day after the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released a new mobile roaming standard (CommsWire yesterday), the communications industry has been hit with a spate of announcements condemning the practice.

Quick off the mark was new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Anthony Albanese. “These outrageous prices mean that too many Australians are coming home from an overseas holiday and being confronted with a mobile phone bill that costs more than the trip itself,” he thundered in his first announcement as Minister.

“By ensuring telecommunications companies provide timely and relevant information to their customers means such ‘bill shock’ can be avoided “Australians frequently experience ‘bill shock’ when using their phones and smart devices overseas because the rates for international mobile roaming services, including Internet access, can be up to 150 times more than what they are charged at home.”

He was joined by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), which issued a statement saying the “global roaming rip-off must end.” And mobile industry group the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has said it is “working with Government” to help solve international roaming problems.

So maybe we will get some action. The new standard released by ACMA (which Albanese is now taking credit for) says Australians travelling overseas must receive warnings about the higher charges that may apply while using their mobile devices. They must receive information on how to opt out of roaming services, and on what charges they can expect from such services. The new standard applies to all Australian mobile providers and will cover all countries where Australians use international mobile roaming. The government says the measures will be phased in progressively from 27 September 2013.

ACCAN, which has been very vocal in the past in drawing attention to high international roaming charges, says it is not enough. “Mobile carriers must come clean on exactly how their exorbitant global roaming fees are derived,” it says. “ACCAN believes that without transparency as to how huge roaming charges are calculated, consumers are prevented from making an informed choice about services.

”Often roaming bill shock arises because people are simply unaware of the huge costs of making a call or checking emails from their mobile phone when they are outside Australia,” said ACCAN spokesman Asher Moses. “The new ACMA standard means that telco providers will have to inform their customers of exactly how much they will be charged for making a call, sending a text or going online using their mobile phone when overseas. Providers must also provide usage alerts and information on how to switch off roaming altogether.”

But ACCAN says the standard will not solve the underlying problem, which is that global roaming charges are still far too high and do not come close to reflecting the true cost of providing the service. “The excuse from providers that they are simply passing on the costs from international carriers is not convincing, as virtually zero transparency is provided as to how such exorbitant fees are derived,” said Mr Moses.

“Consumers have been gouged on roaming for far too long. When you think about the huge number of complaints that consumers have made about this, you can only presume that the telcos are addicted to the massive profits derived from the global roaming rip-off.

“We are disappointed that for usage monitoring the standard defines ‘current usage data’ as anytime within the last 48 hours, meaning consumers may not be able to properly manage their own usage.

Read more about what the industry proposes on the next page


Recent research by KPMG analysing Australian mobile roaming margins confirms that roaming charges are significantly above the cost of providing the service. A 2011 OECD report found Australia's international data roaming charges, at about $12 a megabyte, are among the highest in the world.

Mobile complaints to the TIO about disputed roaming charges increased in 2011-12 by almost 70% compared to the previous year to more than 4100 issues, with the proportion of disputed amounts above $5000 more than doubling in a year to over 10%.

In the European Union, new roaming price caps mean charges for making a call within EU countries dropped by at least 17% a minute while costs of receiving a call will drop by about 12% a minute. Downloading data is 36% cheaper, and 91% cheaper compared with 2007. The EU has discussed scrapping the excess roaming charges altogether.

The recent Trans-Tasman roaming agreement between the Australian and New Zealand governments saw both countries recognise that roaming prices were out of control. Both committed to passing legislation that would empower their regulators to firstly investigate global roaming pricing and possibly cap roaming pricing between the two countries. This legislation in Australia was on the agenda for the last parliamentary sitting week but was not passed in time.

The mobile telecommunications industry says it is “committed to working with Government” to ensure greater transparency about costs and options for effective use of mobile devices while travelling overseas, the said today.

AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, said it was in no-one’s interests to have customers experience unexpected high bills when travelling overseas and using international mobile roaming services.

“Our industry stresses the importance of its customers making arrangements for roaming a priority in their preparation before going overseas, just as they would check they have appropriate immigration, health and financial arrangements.

“Always talk to your service provider so that you are fully informed of all the relevant charges that may apply and seek advice on the most appropriate plan or data roaming package for your needs. You may also want to adjust your smartphone’s settings to avoid incurring unexpected charges.”

Nothing from the industry about reducing charges. AMTA’s solution is about nothing more than making people aware of how high the charges are. It would seem ACCAN has a point.

Go to the next page for ACCAN’s International Mobile Roaming Consumer Tips


ACCAN’s International Mobile Roaming Consumer Tips

Consumers generally have three options for using their phone while overseas:

  1. 1.Buy a local SIM card when you arrive at your destination to access cheap local rates (requires unlocked handset).
  2. 2.Buy a pre-paid roaming SIM card before you go from providers such as TravelSIM, GoSIM, RoamingSIM or GoTalk.
  3. 3.Use global roaming with your normal provider but beware the r high charges.

ACCAN recommends that travellers try to use free Wi-Fi hotspots where possible to access the web, check email and make international calls using applications like Skype or Facetime.

If you are global roaming with your normal provider, use your phone mainly for SMS and switch off your voicemail as well as data roaming.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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