International mobile roaming standard amended

MVNOs will not have to provide roaming info until 2019, while other telcos must allow customers to opt out of receiving such information under the ACMA's changes.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has amended the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013, taking into account the roaming products that are now available and the consequent drop in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

The changes will allow telcos the option of delivering on-arrival roaming pricing in a single text message, rather than multiple messages; allow customers to opt out of receiving usage alerts while roaming; and postpone the requirement for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) having to provide roaming spend-management information to customers until January 1, 2019.

If a customer does decline to receive roaming information, their telco must confirm this via SMS and advise the customer that they may request to receive notifications again at no cost at any time, with the telco to comply with such a request "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

In February, the ACMA had opened up its proposed changes to submissions from the public, saying they would "provide more flexibility to industry while maintaining consumer protections".

Both Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) welcomed the final roaming changes, saying they would provide flexibility for customers while travelling as well as delaying regulatory red-tape burdens for MVNOs.

"These amendments recognise that the customer protections built into international roaming products have improved dramatically in recent years, as service providers have committed to minimising the chances of customers receiving unexpectedly high bills," said AMTA CEO Chris Althaus on Thursday.

"Products such as data packs and unlimited roaming for a fixed daily fee have changed the face of international roaming, and contributed to the halving of roaming-related customer complaints to the industry ombudsman over the past three years."

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 TIO between September 2013 and September 2015.

It was to begin applying to MVNOs from May this year, had the ACMA's changes not been 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.

Optus similarly charges AU$10 per day for a travel pack allowing unlimited SMS, calls, and 50MB of data per day throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

By comparison, 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 in February -- 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".