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Smaller telcos unworried about consumer code

The changes required to get in line with the new Australian telco consumer code will not be a big deal, according to smaller telcos.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Smaller telcos have been given an extra year to get ready for spend-management tools under the new telecommunications consumer-protection code — but it won't be needed, according to Amaysim and iiNet.

As part of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code, developed by the industry and accepted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) earlier this month, big telcos will be required to have spend-management tools in place by September 2013. These tools will allow customers to check their balance, how much they've spent, how many calls they have made, how many texts they have sent and how much data they have used, with a maximum 48-hour lag on that information. Telcos will also be required to notify customers when they hit 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of their monthly spend limits.

Smaller telecommunications companies have been given until September 2014 to get their spend-management tools ready. The ACMA noted that part of the reason that there is a 48-hour delay on information is because smaller telcos, such as those that wholesale through the three big mobile operators in Australia, could not get more up-to-date information.

But Amaysim, which wholesales mobile services through Optus, is already offering spend-management tools, and has the ability to notify customers on how much they are spending within minutes, according to CEO Rolf Hansen.

"Ours is implemented since day one," he told ZDNet Australia. "We give warnings for data usage at 75 per cent, 95 and 100 per cent today, and we can obviously change those thresholds as we please, or adjust them to the TCP requirements.

"We do this in near real time, so we're much faster than the 48 hours that the code says. It's within minutes of usage that we do that," he said.

The key to this is that although Amaysim offers both post-paid and prepaid plans to customers, it only wholesales from Optus' prepaid system. A prepaid account is emulated to appear to be post-paid for any customer wanting to go on a plan, Hansen said.

"The beauty of our model is that we are technically a prepaid customer of Optus, and we then emulate post-paid [with Amaysim's customers]," he said. "So if customers choose to be post-paid, then we just emulate that on the back of a prepaid system. The advantage is that with prepaid, it is near real time, whereas post-paid, that is where these 48-hour [delays] come from, where you need time to collect the data."

He said that getting near real-time data was part of the reason why Amaysim decided to wholesale with Optus.

"Part of our due diligence when we chose the wholesale partner in Australia was to see to what extent their systems and intelligent networks we hook up to could provide that real-time data, and Optus is well set up to provide that."

Although iiNet is a big player in the fixed-line internet market, it is a relatively new and small company in the mobile market, and, as with Amaysim, iiNet wholesales services through Optus.

According to iiNet's chief customer officer Maryna Fewster, iiNet is also ready to go for the TCP code.

"We have a range of useful spend-management tools in place to help our customers combat bill shock," she said. "One of these tools is a standard AU$200 credit limit, which customers can increase on request."

The company also sends SMS and email reminders when customers reach 80 and 100 per cent of their monthly spend. This will be adjusted to meet TCP code requirements, Fewster said.

"We'll simply add a 50 per cent reminder to our existing 80 and 100 per cent spend reminders to match those required by the code," she said. "We can't answer for other MVNOs, but making our systems compliant won't be a big issue for us."

Both Hansen and Fewster agreed that with the TCP code in place, the last beast that the industry needs to slay is the high global-roaming costs for using mobile services while overseas.

"Roaming is one of the last dark sides of this industry, where the big players still make lots of money. It is just ridiculous, really," Hansen said.

"Australian telcos often won't get the data from the overseas mobile carrier for days or weeks after the fact, meaning that customers can receive bills for thousands of dollars with no warning possible," said Fewster. "Anything that the Australian Government could do to work with overseas governments on this matter would be welcomed and supported."

Hansen suggested that the European model, implemented earlier this month to cut roaming costs between European countries, should be extended across the globe.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have been looking into reducing trans-Tasman roaming costs between the two nations for over a year now. There has been no movement on the matter since last year, but it is understood that the governments will soon release a discussion paper on the issue.

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