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ACMA revisiting international mobile roaming

The ACMA is seeking community feedback on its proposition to amend the international mobile roaming standard.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has opened up its proposed changes to the global roaming standard for submissions from the public, with changes to make it easier for telcos to offer low or no roaming costs.

The changes to the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013 would provide telcos with more ways to offer low or no roaming costs to customers; mandate that telcos deliver on-arrival roaming pricing in a single text message, instead of through multiple messages; allow customers to opt out of receiving usage alerts while roaming; and postpone the requirement for MVNOs having to provide roaming spend-management information to customers until January 2019.

According to the government agency, the roaming changes will "provide more flexibility to industry while maintaining consumer protections".

The international mobile roaming standard was first produced by the ACMA in June 2013, and came into effect in September that year. It mandated that telcos provide travelling customers with roaming and pricing info upon arrival in a new country, as well as spend-management tools such as data-usage notifications and the ability to stop roaming.

The introduction of the standard drove a 65 percent drop in customer complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman between September 2013 and September 2015.

It will begin applying to MVNOs from May this year, unless the ACMA's changes are waved through.

In an effort to attract more customers, Vodafone Australia in February announced that it would be waiving its usual AU$5 a day fee to use normal monthly data, calls, and messages for customers travelling to New Zealand for the next year.

With Vodafone the second most-used mobile network worldwide, it could potentially bring free roaming offerings to all countries in which it owns networks, including the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, India, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Albania, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, North Cyprus, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Lesotho, Tanzania, Mozambique, DR Congo, Qatar, and Ghana. It also has minority holdings and partner networks in more than 40 other countries.

Vodafone Australia's Red post-paid plans offer AU$5 a day roaming to 52 countries, which allows customers to use their regular monthly allowances worldwide.

By comparison, Australia's incumbent telecommunications carrier Telstra in December faced criticism from customers after making the decision to hike its global roaming charges during the Christmas period.

Telstra had announced the decision to triple its excess data charges for many tourist destinations, but after hundreds of customers publicly slammed the decision, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn reversed it.

As a result, Telstra scrapped the previously announced excess data fees -- which were to increase from 3c to 10c per 1MB -- while maintaining the 50 percent increase in data allowances on its Travel Passes to a greater pool of countries.

In another effort to bring down international roaming prices, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- signed by Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile earlier this month -- is encouraging its member states to promote more transparent and reasonable costs for international mobile roaming services in order to support the growth of trade and improve consumer interests.

However, it stopped short of explicitly requiring regulation.

The wording of Article 13.6 of the Telecommunications chapter [PDF], which covers international mobile roaming, states that members "may choose to adopt or maintain measures affecting rates for wholesale international roaming services with a view to ensuring that those rates are reasonable".

"Nothing in this Article shall require a party to regulate rates or conditions for international mobile roaming services," part 7 of the Article states. Rather, parties must simply "endeavour to cooperate on promoting transparent and reasonable rates".

Submissions on the international roaming standard are being accepted by the ACMA until March 30.

The ACMA has also announced that its deputy chairman Richard Bean will become acting chairman as of Saturday, with Chris Chapman's 10-year tenure as chairman ending on Friday.

"I am delighted to be leading an agency at the top of its game, and want to thank Chris for his 10 years of outstanding leadership," said Bean.

"The ACMA is committed to acting in the public interest while remaining at the forefront of regulatory thought and practice in adapting to rapid change in almost all areas of responsibilities."