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Telco Watchdog’s War On “Bill Shock”


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The Australia Commmunication Media Authority is stepping up enforcement on Telstra, Optus et al as it finds a high number of consumers couldn’t pay a bill due to ‘bill shock.’

The improved Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP), as announced by Minister Stephen Conroy earlier today, forces telcos to introduce safeguards for consumers against bill shock and givenotification alerts for data, voice calls and SMS usage no later than 48 hours after the user has reached cap thresholds of 50, 85 and 100 per cent.

So, if you’ve been on the blower too long to granny and are coming close to hitting your cap limit, you should get a notification.

Telcos must also notify about the new charges that apply once the mobile cap has been exceeded.

14% of Australian phone and internet consumers experienced difficulty paying a bill in the last 12 months, according to new research released by ACMA.

Almost half of these indicated bill shock – an unexpectedly high bill – as one of the main reasons.

However, almost 70% were also not offered advice about avoiding such situations in the future.

Telstra already has bill notifications in place, with Optus also announcing the anti-shock measure and Voda soon to follow.

But its not just bill shock the ACMA has declared war on.

Telco advertising, roaming charges and complaints handling are some of the other bugbears on its hit list.

“A key problem has been the way the mobile telecommunications industry has progressively structured its plans,” said ACMA Chairman, Mr Chris Chapman, speaking at ACCAN National Conference today.

“I’m referring here specifically to ‘included value plans’ which may offer, for example, a supposed $500 worth of value for $49 a month. “

Telcos will now be forced to have clearer ads for plans and must disclose unit pricing for the internet and mobile included value plans in printed and online ads.

The new TCP code also will make it easier for consumers to compare providers, said Chapman, so consumer can figure which telco has the best value plan.

The ACMA’s boss predicts the number of telcos in Oz may reduce, following the enforcement of the new rules.

“International mobile roaming is another issue that is harming consumers,” said Minister Conroy today, who last month instructed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to have an industry standard in place within a year.

“The new standard will provide additional information to Australian consumers when they are overseas to help them manage their mobile phone costs,” he said.

The TCP Code also places telcos under obligation to have better complaint procedures and resolution—two  days for acknowledgement and three weeks for resolution.

Urgent complaints must also now be resolved within two days.