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New roaming rules for Australian telcos

The ACMA has announced new rules to better inform Australians of the costs of using their mobile service while travelling overseas.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has set out new rules for Australian mobile companies, aimed at reducing bill shock for customers who use their mobile services while travelling overseas.

The new International Mobile Roaming (IMR) standard will come into effect from September 27, 2013, for Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, and May 23, 2016, for resellers.

From those dates, the telcos will be required to send an SMS warning to customers when they arrive overseas, including pricing information, and allow customers to switch off roaming.

Then, from September 27, 2014, for Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone, and from May 23, 2015, for resellers, telcos will also be required to send alerts for every AU$100 spent, as well as the regular 50 percent, 85 percent, and 100 percent usage notifications.

The issue of high charges for using mobiles overseas remains one of the biggest challenges for the telecommunications industry, and can result in the average citizen, or even politician, owing the mobile providers thousands of dollars.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) last year found that there had been a significant rise in the number of complaints to the TIO relating to global roaming bills over AU$5,000, with one consumer ending up with a bill of AU$75,000 after a nine-week holiday in Europe. The TIO estimated that in 15 months, it dealt with complaints from customers over roaming charges that added up to a total of AU$8 million.

The ACMA had been considering the standards since late last year, and while the authority doesn't have the power to regulate the roaming market, the government said at the time that it was looking into whether it could regulate the roaming industry.

The industry itself is starting to move on the issue, however, with Optus announcing in May that it had introduced a hard cap for customers who use their phone while roaming at AU$500. While Optus would not disconnect the service if the customer went over that amount while travelling overseas, Optus would not charge the customer any more money after that point.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has welcomed the ACMA's new standard, but has said that more needs to be done to reduce the cost of using mobile services while abroad.

"The standard will not solve the underlying problem, which is that global roaming charges are still way too high and do not come close to reflecting the true cost of providing the service," ACCAN spokesperson Asher Moses said.

"The excuse from providers that they are simply passing on the costs from international carriers is not convincing, as virtually zero transparency is provided as to how such exorbitant fees are derived."

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