Home & Office

Telstra phone-theft bill shock shows roaming still broken

The fact that someone could get AU$28,000 in charges in the time that it took Telstra to cancel a service, shows that global roaming is still broken.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

There's bill shock, and then there's bill shock. I'm sure the last thing Rayden Crawley expected when he returned from his holiday in Barcelona was to see a AU$28,000 phone bill from Telstra for his phone that was stolen while overseas.

According to the 3AW report, Crawley lost his phone in Barcelona and had contacted Telstra via email after reporting the theft to police.

When he returned to Australia, he found that he had a bill of AU$27,853. He contacted Telstra, who said that the account would be reimbursed once Crawley signed a statutory declaration and the telco received the police report. But two weeks later, his credit card was charged for the full amount.

According to the report, the reason why the charge was so excessive was because Telstra didn't put the block on his SIM until 36 hours after he reported it stolen.

The story is perfect talkback fodder. Big bad evil telco, international theft, bad customer service. It has everything that will stir up the kind of outrage that only AM radio can do best. And very quickly, Telstra said that it was going to refund the bill. But not before a few other callers, like Mavis and Stephanie no doubt, chimed in with their own problems with Telstra.

But the story had me wondering: in only 36 hours, just how exactly could someone rack up a bill of AU$28,000?

According to Telstra's global roaming charges page, local calls are charged at AU$2.00 per minute, and calls to Australia are AU$5.12 per minute. So even if the person was on a voice call for the entire time between when the phone went missing and when it was blocked by Telstra, it still wouldn't add up to that amount.

Where Telstra does get expensive is in data. In Spain, Telstra charges 1.5 cents per kilobyte, or $15.36 per megabyte. This means that, even if the full bill was only due to data, all the owner would need to download is around 1.8GB of data in order to reach the full AU$27,853.

A high-quality movie could easily get to that level of usage within 36 hours.

It serves as a good reminder that global roaming is still such a huge problem for the telcos to come to grips with. In a time when people are much more transient than they once were, we shouldn't continue to face such high costs just to be able to keep in contact while abroad.

There are multiple alternative methods to use a phone cheaply overseas, either through getting another SIM or using Skype, etc, but in many cases, people just want to keep in contact on their existing number.

When the governments of Australia and New Zealand looked to make trans-Tasman roaming a little cheaper, they encountered heavy resistance from the telcos in both countries, who suggested that the alternatives were good enough, and competition itself was reducing global roaming costs.

Australia and New Zealand roaming is one thing; we're neighbours. It's like the US and Canada. The rest of the world is a whole different kettle of fish.

Crawley's story this week proves that we still have a long way to go. Telstra told me that many telcos around the world are currently in negotiations to extend global roaming agreements from 3G networks to 4G networks. Perhaps part of that discussion should focus on how to stop sending customers broke just for logging onto YouTube?

Editorial standards