Conroy calls for submissions on trans-Tasman roaming charges, but international agreements still years away

The Federal Government has taken its first push towards making global roaming charges more affordable after releasing a draft report that aims to create agreements between telcos in Australia and New Zealand.

And while telco experts say an agreement between Australia and other countries, including the United States, are years away, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said it’s an issue that deserves more attention – and he’s called for an industry standard.

“One of the most common complaints that I hear is from people who return from overseas and are confronted by a mobile phone bill that runs into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

“They are angry about the excessive charges and they are angry about not knowing how much they are being charged in the first place.”

Global roaming charges have been a sore point for telco users for years. Many travel overseas and continue making phone calls, but are charged at much higher rates than usual. This creates “bill shock” when they return to charges worth thousands of dollars.

Conroy says telcos are profiting from these charges.

Conroy has directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to create an industry standard to let consumers know how much they’re going to be charged when overseas. That standard is expected to be in place within a year.

But Ovum research director David Kennedy says consumers shouldn’t get too excited. Creating an international standard for global roaming rates, which could result in lower costs, is “years away”.

“The Australian and New Zealand agreement, when it’s finalised, will stand alone. But there is an interest within ASEAN countries to create an agreement.”

The ASEAN block includes countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia.

“That’s at a much earlier stage than these negotiations, but if that were to come to pass, the next step would be combining the agreement with one between Australia and New Zealand.”

However, Kennedy says an agreement between Australia and both the United States and European countries is so far off that it may as well be “science fiction”.

Conroy released the report this morning which provides some options including improving price transparency, using legislation to allow roamers to access local charges when overseas, and unbundling roaming services so users can access different networks when roaming and at home.

Another proposal would introduce wholesale and retail price caps.

“New Zealanders have started to enjoy lower roaming prices recently, and the draft report shows that the pressure created by our joint investigation has been a key factor in this reduction,” New Zealand communications minister Amy Adams said in a statement.

Kennedy says it’s a start, but creating this agreement in other countries will be a challenge.

“Another thing to keep in mind is that if countries end up taking diverging approaches, it would make negotiations much harder.”

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