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Minister cracks down on telco bill shock

The outgoing Minister for Communications Information Technology and the Arts, Daryl Williams, has called on the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to ensure consumers are protected from "unexpected high [telecommunications] bills".In addition, Williams has instructed the ACA to create an industry policy for telecommunication providers to educate consumers on avoiding excessive charges.

The outgoing Minister for Communications Information Technology and the Arts, Daryl Williams, has called on the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to ensure consumers are protected from "unexpected high [telecommunications] bills".

In addition, Williams has instructed the ACA to create an industry policy for telecommunication providers to educate consumers on avoiding excessive charges.

The ACA has been given a six-month timeframe to report back to the minister with an evaluation of the efficiency of the "credit management measures" currently employed in the industry.

Williams says if the findings show current measures to be inadequate in keeping consumers abreast of telecommunication charges then "the government will put regulations in place for the protection of consumers".

According to Williams, the decision follows a report by the ACA into the need for additional regulations in the supply of premium telephone services, which recommends a mandate be implemented for telecommunications companies to provide customers with information on avoiding unexpected charges and the risks associated with premium rate services.

"Unexpected high bills from premium rate services and problems caused by Internet diallers on international numbers can cause considerable financial hardship for unsuspecting consumers," stated Williams.

The 2003 shut-down of 190 Internet dialler services brought telecommunications complaints (registered with TIO) down by more than three-quarters, according to the Minister. However, he states that customers who are uneducated on regular and premium telephone costs could still be in danger of racking up their bills.

"There remains a risk that consumers could unwittingly generate unexpected high bills if they are not clear about their rights and responsibilities when using services such as domestic and international long-distance calls, broadband services and new premium rate mobile services," stated Williams.

Additionally, the Minister said he would instruct the ACA to establish restrictions for the supply of premium mobile services that contain adult content for minors, including short messaging and multimedia messaging services.

The Labor party has responded to the Ministers directive by stating that it has "already committed to developing policy for credit limits on standard consumer phone accounts", adding that "all the Howard government has done is order yet another inquiry".

According to a Labor party spokesman the government has done little to crack down on unexpected high telephone bills, stating "they have just pushed the problem off into the future".

"We have had reports of consumers running up AU$10,000 plus bills through Internet dumping and the like for years and the government has still done nothing to address this problem," said the spokesman.