OECD urges action on international roaming

BY CLAIRE MCENTEE
Last updated 05:00 12/04/2010
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"Unreasonably" high charges for using mobile phones and mobile broadband overseas could face the regulators' axe under an OECD proposal.

Mobile network owners pay hefty rates so their customers can use the networks of overseas carriers while travelling, and these fees are usually passed on to the customer.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development proposes several ways to reduce global roaming charges – including regulation of wholesale access charges by governments around the world.

The report urges telcos to better educate customers about roaming charges so as to avoid "bill-shock".

Wellington businesswoman Liz Price says she was horrified to discover she had been charged $3500 for two hours of internet use while on holiday in Australia.

When accessing roaming she had been warned charges would be higher than usual but the warning was inadequate, she says.

"Why would anybody spend $3500 on internet unless they did not know how much it was? The charges are just outrageous, I can't see any justification for them."Economic Development Ministry spokeswoman Tracy Dillimore says it is interested in the OECD's work on roaming.

It is investigating trans-Tasman roaming rates and pricing transparency with Australia's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman says it is working with overseas organisations to try to effect an industry-led solution but fears regulators will need to step in.

Telcos have no incentive to band together to reduce roaming charges and individual regulators have no power outside their countries, he says.

"If I go and roam in Fiji then Fiji Telecom charges an arm and a leg, then my carrier in New Zealand puts a margin on that and charges me.

"The Commerce Commission is powerless to do anything about what Fiji Telecom is charging, I'm powerless because I'm not their customer and my mobile carrier in New Zealand has no incentive to do anything about it because when a visitor from Fiji comes here they are the beneficiary of the same rort in reverse."

The actual cost of accessing overseas carriers' networks is unknown, he says. "But it's sure as hell not $3500 for two hours of internet access in Brisbane."

Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees say roaming charges are an international issue, but attempting to regulate them worldwide would be challenging and impractical.

The OECD report suggests telcos that are established in multiple countries could offer "on-net" pricing for their customers, and people could sign up to mobile virtual network operators, which resell access to networks, in countries they are visiting to avoid roaming charges.

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But it says "directly regulating roaming prices may be the only way to guarantee that consumers are not unreasonably charged".

- The Dominion Post

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