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Australia fights to tame monster global roaming charges

July 8, 2013 Headline News, Technology No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The Australian Government, in the form of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is moving to tame one of the big nasties of overseas travel – exorbitant charges for global roaming on mobile phones.

SMS alerts, spend management tools and opt-out arrangements for Australians using their mobile phone overseas will become available soon under new ACMA provisions.

ACMA’s new International Mobile Roaming (IMR) standard requires mobile service providers to provide a range of consumer protection features to help overseas travellers manage their mobile usage and better avoid bill shock.

The three major providers – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – have just a few months to comply, but smaller competitors can put it off until 2016.

“Forewarned is certainly a major part of being forearmed,” said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. “These new measures will help consumers travelling with their mobile phone to be much better equipped than ever before to avoid travel bill shock.” Sidebar-Banner-GTM_Specs--250x250-A

Complaints about monstrous overseas roaming charges are increasing fast. The Telecommunications Ombudsman received more than 4000 complaints last year – a jump of nearly 70% over the year before.

Seasoned travellers know that to use global roaming is to risk being hit by rip-off rates. The best way for travellers to avoid high bills is to use services such as Skype, similar VoIP programs or free wi-fi hotspots. It’s often best to switch off voicemail and data roaming. Other tactics include using a local pre-paid SIM for incoming calls and a phone-card for outgoing.

Another method, quite simple, is to use a pre-paid roaming SIM bought in Australia. vRoam now offers global vSIMs for overseas travellers no matter where they travel. vRoam says its vSIM average savings are over 50% compared to Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone.

BackChat’s GlobalSIM is another such service provided in Australia. The company says its website tells travellers all charges (which are a fraction of the rate charged by the big three telcos) before they leave.

Meanwhile, ACMA is tightening up the overall situation.

“The standard extends the information which suppliers must make available to Australian consumers under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code,” Chapman says.

“They will now receive similar information when they travel overseas and use roaming services.”

This initiative builds on the ACMA’s work in the Reconnecting the Customer  public inquiry (RTC inquiry), which found consumers were often not aware of charging arrangements and how charges accrue.

The IMR Standard will be phased in from 27 September 2013. Its four key consumer protection measures are:

  • A notification via SMS to be sent to all consumers on arrival overseas, warning them that significantly higher charges for using roaming services may apply. 
  • Enabling customers to stop international roaming, at low cost, at any time—including from an overseas location. 
  • A notification to be sent via SMS to customers of service providers giving them pricing information for using a range of roaming services. These services include any that would normally be free in the domestic market, such as receiving a call on a mobile device. 
  • Spend management tools, including notifications in A$100 increments for data usage and notifications at 50, 85 and 100 per cent of included value, if a customer has purchased an included value travel package from their IMR service provider. 

The new standard represents the second tranche of improved transparency measures to aid telecommunications consumers, ACMA stated. The first tranche was in the strengthened Telecommunication Consumer Protections Code, following the RTC inquiry.

The Australian Government has also announced other measures to address high international mobile roaming charges.

An ACMA fact sheet is available for travellers with additional tips to avoid paying high charges when overseas, including purchasing a travel product from a service provider or unlocking a phone and purchasing a foreign SIM card.

Edited by : Peter Needham

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