ACMA announces new international mobile roaming standard for Australia

Now you'll be aware of impending bill shock

For Australians, travelling to another country could really spell disaster if you decide to use international roaming, with stories and complaints of bill shock on a steep and pricey rise.

Complaints about global roaming charges soared by almost 70 per cent in 2011-2012, according to a report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, while the proportion of disputed amounts above $5000 doubled in a year to over 10 per cent.

In August last year, former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy tasked the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to implement a new mobile roaming standard for Australians telcos.

Today, the ACMA revealed the new International Mobile Roaming (IMR) standard, which is to be implemented by all Australian telcos by September 2013, while resellers will be given until May 2016 for some of the items in the standard.

According to ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman, the new standard extends "the information that suppliers must make available to Australian consumers under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code".

"They will now receive similar information when they travel overseas and use roaming services," he said.

The four key protections

Starting from 27 September, SMS notification will need to be sent to consumers when they arrive overseas to warn them that significantly higher charges for roaming services may apply.

An SMS will also be sent to customers with pricing information for using roaming services, which includes those that would normally be free when back at home, such as receiving a call.

Telcos will also need to provide customers a way to stop international roaming, at low cost and at any time, including from an overseas location.

The IMR standard also requires spend management tools for customers, including notifications at "$100 increments for data usage and notifications at 50, 85 and 100 per cent of included value" if the customer has purchased a travel package.

The ACMA has also supplied a time frame for the implementation of the new IMR standard for telcos.

Roaming rip-off

"Forewarned is certainly a major part of being forearmed," Chapman said. "These new measures will help consumers travelling with their mobile phone to be much better equipped than ever before to avoid travel bill shock."

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has welcomed the standard, but ACCAN spokesman Asher Moses believes that more needs to be done to end the "roaming rip-off".

"Consumers have been gouged on roaming for far too long," said Moses.

"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."

"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," he added.

The bilateral roaming

In 2011, an OECD report found Australia's international data roaming charges to be about $12 per megabyte, according to ACCAN in its statement, which places the prices as the third highest in the world behind Japan and Chile.

ACCAN cited the recent Trans-Tasman roaming agreement between the Australian and New Zealand governments where both governments acknowledged that roaming prices were out of control.

The governments committed to pass legislation that would have potentially capped roaming charges between the countries, such as has been implemented in the European Union starting from Monday, but the legislation wasn't passed in time for the last parliamentary hearing in Australia.

"ACCAN would like to see similar bilateral agreements between Australia and other nations to help reduce gross over-charging on roaming," it said in the statement.