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Thursday, 23 August 2012 15:26

Finally: action of sorts on trans-Tasman roaming charges

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The Australian and New Zealand Governments has issued a joint report into trans-Tasman roaming charges that canvasses a number of options designed to lead to lower charges. Not surprisingly it "finds telecommunication companies are making excessive profits from trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges."

However the only action immediately proposed, by the Australian Government only, is to put in place a mechanism that will tell roamers exactly what these excessive charges are.

Releasing the draft report, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said: "One of the most common complaints that I hear is from people who return from overseas and are confronted by a mobile phone bill that runs into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They are angry about the excessive charges and they are angry about not knowing how much they are being charged in the first place."

"I am, therefore, directing the Australian Communications and Media Authority to put in place an industry standard for mobile roaming so that consumers know exactly how much they will be charged when they make a phone call, send a text message, or surf the internet, wherever they may be overseas. It is expected that the standard will be in place within twelve months."

Little though this is, it is more than his New Zealand counterpart, Amy Adams, has promised, which is absolutely nothing. However she has claimed credit for recent reductions in roaming charges.

She said: "New Zealanders have started to enjoy lower roaming prices recently, and there is no doubt that the pressure created by our joint investigation has been a key factor in this reduction."

She added: "It is my expectation that New Zealanders at home and across the Tasman should be able to expect fair and equitable pricing and a clear understanding of the costs," but gave no indication as to when, or how, this wish might be fulfilled.

CONTINUED

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The next stage is for public submissions to be received on the draft report. These are due by 27 September, and neither government has given any indication of developments beyond that point.

The Australian Government's review of international mobile roaming charges has been underway since 2008 when it kicked off a House of Representatives enquiry into international roaming charges.

The enquiry tabled its report in March 2009. Its primary recommendation was that: "The Australian Government pursue a policy of regulating the framework for the wholesale cost of roaming through bilateral and multilateral negotiations with other countries, ensuring that countries with the largest number of Australian visitors are given priority."

The joint Australia- New Zealand initiative came as a result of that recommendations and got underway in May 2010 with the launch of a discussion paper. A year later the two governments launched a formal investigation into trans Tasman roaming charges, of which today's draft report is the outcome. The initial timetable was for release of a final report in early 2012, to be preceded by the, just released, draft report.

In the interim, a survey undertaken by New Zealand's Ministry of Economic Development, released in June 2011, which found the costs of data roaming to be prohibitive for New Zealanders doing business in Australia, gave a sense of urgency to a remedy of some sort.

DBCDE has also released a public version of a report commissioned form the Wik consultancy. It is he third such exercise. In 2008 KPMG was awarded a $76,000 contract for the provision of expert advice on international mobile roaming charges and early in 2011 Frontier Economics scored a $72,000 contract for trans-Tasman mobile roaming analysis.

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