Friday, 14 November 2014 12:04

ACCAN examines soaring complaints about telco excess data charges Featured


Complaints about excess mobile data charges have soared by 27.2% from last year, making it a sore issue with consumers, but the market has started responding, with lower per MB charges and flat fees per GB to counter the dreaded bill shock.

The latest Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman TIO Annual Report for 2013-2014 is a must read for the industry and shows a whopping 27.2% increase in excess data charge complaints.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), notes that ‘excess data charges are clearly an issue for some consumers’, so with this in mind, ACCAN ‘has examined the excess data offerings from five Australian telcos and published a comparison article to help consumers navigate the market and outline the options available when you go over your monthly data allowance.’

Its latest article ‘determines which telcos offer the best value for money and gives advice for choosing a data plan that meets your needs.’

ACCAN is thankful that the telco market has starting responding in earnest at last, and reports that ‘telcos have introduced measures, like lowering the per megabyte charge for excess data or introducing flat fees per gigabyte, to reduce bill shock once you reach your monthly allowance.’

ACCAN’s latest post, linked above and effectively reproduced here, examines ‘how amaysim, Optus, Telstra, Virgin and Vodafone treat excess data usage to determine which telco presents the best deal for extra data when you go over your monthly allowance.’

So, what happens when you use all of your monthly data allowance?

Well, depending which telco you're with, sayeth ACCAN, ‘you'll either be automatically upgraded to an extra data package, have to manually add on a data package or be charged per megabyte for the data you use.’

Here's what ACCAN says the telcos offer:

- amaysim – offers extra data packages that can be purchased manually when you use up your monthly allowance. These start at $9.90 for 1GB and go up to $29.90 for 4GB. If you don't upgrade to a higher data package when your allowance is used up you'll incur a charge of 5c per megabyte.

- Optus – offers an automatic flat rate of $10 per gigabyte used above your monthly data allowance. You can use up to an extra 60GB of data in one month.

- Telstra – once you use up all of your monthly data allowance you can manually add on a data pack. These start at $5 for 500MB and go up to $60 for an extra 6GB. Extra data packs can be set up to automatically add to your account each month and can be added through the Telstra 24x7 app. If you don't upgrade to an additional data package, be wary of how much data you use because Telstra will charge you 3c/megabyte for data used above your allowance.

- Virgin – when you use up all of your monthly data you can manually add a 'Data Value Add' to your account. These start from $5 for 500MB, $10 for 1GB and go all the way up to $60 for 6GB. The 'Data Value Add' can be added through the MyAccount app, is charged monthly and continues on your account until you cancel it. If you don't elect for a 'Data Value Add' to be added to your account and you go over your data allowance, you'll be charged 5.2c/megabyte.

- Vodafone – like Optus, Vodafone offer an automatic flat rate of $10 per gigabyte used above your monthly data allowance. There's no limit on how much data you can use above your monthly allowance.

Now for an important question - which telco offers the best value for money?

ACCAN says that, ‘if we compare the 1GB extra data packs, the telco offering the best value is amaysim, followed closely by Optus, Vodafone and Virgin. amaysim offers an extra 1GB of data for $9.90, however you have to manually upgrade to access it.’

When it comes to Optus and Vodafone (on Classic and Red plans), both ‘offer the advantage of not using per megabyte charges, but consumers should be careful on these plans as you can go over your allowance and pay $10 for an extra 1GB of data that may not get used. This would be especially annoying if it happens only a few days before your limits reset and you don't have time to use all of the data.’

Next up is amaysim, Telstra and Virgin. If you’re with any of these three carriers, ACCAN says to ‘beware of per megabyte charges which aren't good value for money. If you use 1GB over your allowance with these telcos you will be charged approximately $30-$50 for it. All three give the option to upgrade to extra data packs which can save you lots of money spent on excess data, but you have to request these manually. Always keep track of your usage so you don't get stung by per megabyte charges.’

So, what is ACCAN's advice?

The consumer advocates say that ‘the golden rule when it comes to choosing a plan is to always know your average monthly usage so you can choose a plan that meets your needs. Don't just go with the first plan you see. Make sure you compare the offerings from a range of telcos so you get the best deal.’

ACCAN says to remember that ‘there are other telcos out there besides the five we've mentioned which may offer a deal that better suits your needs. It really pays to do your research and find out who has the best deal for you.’

It reminds us that ‘When you sign up for a new contract, make sure you're aware of how your telco treats excess data so you know what charges you might incur if you exceed your data limit. The options differ in terms of price and the amount of data offered, so it's important to take note of these when you're signing up as your data usage is likely to increase over time.’

Finally, ACCAN says to ;Always track your data usage to ensure you're not going over your allowance and incurring unnecessary charges. Your telco will have an app or online account you can use to check your usage. Whenever possible, connect your smartphone to WiFi to offset your mobile data usage.’

All of which is definitely solid advice, with even more info on ‘how to use less data on your smartphone from ACCAN’s tip sheet.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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