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Wednesday, 12 March 2008 08:57

When in roam...charge fair prices says ATUG

The Australian Telecommunications Users Group (Atug) has announced the key issue on which it intends to focus in 2008: "the exorbitant prices consumers and businesses face for using mobile voice and internet services while overseas."
Announcing the campaign - under the name "Roam Fair" - in her opening address to the Group's annual conference in Sydney, Atug executive director, Rosemary Sinclair, said: "ATUG members have found themselves with bills in the hundreds and thousand of dollars when they come home. Regulators in other countries have already dealt with this issue and ATUG says it's time that Australians got a fair deal too.

"When the Atug board discussed this issue a few weeks ago the energy in the room rose dramatically as example after example was given of staff travelling overseas coming home with bills for mobile services in the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for just using services that they use at home. The industry's promise is service anywhere at anytime. Atug's response is yes, but not at any price."

She claimed that while local sim cards and phone cards might be suitable for consumers, "they are no answer for businesses". And noted also "The European Union has decided they are not an answer for consumer either."

The ACCC has investigated international mobile roaming services and while the final report of that enquiry, announced in September 2005 , found prices to be high, it laid most of the blamed at the door of overseas carriers charging high rates to Australian carriers to terminate calls to Australian mobiles roamed onto their networks.

These charges are beyond the ACCC's jurisdiction, but the ACCC noted that "concerns over prices for international roaming services have attracted attention in a number of international regulatory forums", and commissioner Ed Willet said: "The ACCC will...seek to find opportunities to assist these forums in their consideration of co-ordinated measures that could be undertaken by regulatory authorities to address concerns in relation to the provision of international roaming services". CONTINUED

Willet said the ACCC believed the situation was improving "The Final Report does observe that competition in the retail market for international roaming services appears to be improving, with the increased availability of substitute services for consumers. These include prepaid international calling cards, SIM cards and mobile phone rentals.

"Further, the ACCC believes that market developments may drive greater price competition among mobile operators and improve price transparency and simplicity for end-users. These developments include advancements in technology that have allowed subscribers to select the network they roam on to, innovative pricing practices by carriers (such as 'lat rates' for world geographical zones), and new entrants in the wholesale roaming market."

The ACCC's inquiry also found that the information provided by mobile operators to consumers about the prices for, and the use of, international roaming has improved in recent years, but still fell short of being adequate, and the ACCC promised to work to improve this.

As with its 2007 campaign "Protect Australia's Competitive Telecommunications" (PACT) Atug has produced a button badge to promote Roam Fair and, closing her speech, Sinclair said "I am proud...to present our first badge to the minister [Stephen Conroy who followed Sinclair on the podium] who I am sure will eagerly play an important role in helping us with that campaign."

Conroy made no comment on the campaign in his speech but did not seem overly keen to sport the campaign button: he was seen handing it to his media advisor.

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