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New mobile roaming alerts set to prevent Aussie bill shock

Australian travellers may soon be informed of what mobile roaming charges they are being subjected to when overseas under a new standard that the ACMA has been tasked with creating.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has tasked the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with developing an industry standard that will alert Australians of roaming charges, no matter where they are overseas, in order to avoid "bill shock".

"This standard will ensure that Australians receive an alert on their mobile phone when they land overseas, and this will allow consumers to find out how much they'll be charged when they make a call, how much they'll be charged when they send a text or how much they'll be charged when they go online," he said.

"Most importantly, these alerts will allow Australian travellers to opt out of using these services."

Conroy has given the ACMA 12 months to develop the standard, which will apply to all countries where Australians use mobile roaming.

"Australians deserve to know how much they're being gauged by mobile operators when they use their mobile phones overseas, and they deserve the ability to say 'no'."

The news comes on the back of a draft report (PDF) that was jointly developed by the Australian Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The draft report is based on traffic and revenue information from mobile operators in both countries, as well as an expert study (PDF) prepared by Wik-Consult.

"This draft report shows that margins made by Australian telcos have been higher than 1000 per cent," he said.

"Since the Australian and New Zealand governments announced our investigation, not surprisingly, these margins have come down, but Australian telcos have generously dropped from 1000 per cent margins to 300 per cent margins."

Conroy said that this wasn't good enough, so now the two governments are canvassing the public on a number of options that it could follow to take action against the telcos. These include the introduction of wholesale and retail price caps, enhancing the regulators' powers or using legislation to allow roaming users to become local end users.

While the draft report only covers mobile users roaming between Australia and New Zealand, Conroy and New Zealand's Communications and IT Minister Amy Adams said that it is the first step in approaching the problem on a global scale.

"This is not an issue that is unique to our two countries. It's an issue that is being talked about and looked at around the world, but actually they face exactly the same challenges that we faced when we first started discussing it," Adams said.

"It's very difficult to go to the global one-size-fits-all approach. I think the way we've approached it is to make it work in our closest, most natural ally market, and then see how we can leverage up from there. It's an issue that the world is looking at, but no one yet that I'm aware of has come up with a comprehensive, global solution."

Submissions on the draft report and expert study are due by 27 September.

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