Trans-Tasman eprices face the chop
The New Zealand and Australian governments are expected to put the heat on mobile phone companies to offer a better deal to trans-Tasman travellers at a meeting in Canberra tomorrow.
Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said the big issue they would need to address was the high cost of using mobile broadband on trips between the countries.
One possibility was that the governments might force mobile phone companies to "unbundle" mobile broadband, so travellers would be able to buy data from any supplier "at local prices" without having to swap out the Sim card in their smartphone or mobile broadband data stick, he said.
"It would be very simple from the governments' point of view and very effective, but difficult and costly for the telcos. It is something that has been looked at in Europe where data roaming is a major concern."
Communications Minister Amy Adams and her Australian counterpart Senator Stephen Conroy plan to release a long-awaited draft report into trans-Tasman roaming at tomorrow's meeting, a spokesman for Adams said.
Brislen hoped the report would be the "start of something big" and would spawn more bilateral agreements with other countries that would reduce roaming prices.
Vodafone spokeswoman Sarah Newcombe said it did not believe "decoupling" mobile broadband in the manner described by Brislen was the right answer, as it would be "complicated, expensive and unnecessary".
Roaming rates had come down significantly in recent years and Vodafone would "radically" reduce them in a few months at the same time as it introduced a service that would make it impossible for New Zealanders to unintentionally blow their data caps while travelling overseas, she said.
The two governments first published a discussion paper on trans-Tasman roaming in May 2010, which concluded that prices were not sufficiently clear and relatively high, and it kicked off their formal investigation last year.
Brislen hoped Adams would also look into Australia's "price gouging inquiry" during her Canberra visit.
Conroy announced in April that an Australian parliamentary committee would examine whether Australians were paying too much for information technology and digital products, such as iTunes music, game downloads and ebooks.
Claims have since poured in that Australians are typically paying 50 per cent more than Americans for common software and digital downloads, while anecdotal evidence suggests the average mark-up is even higher in New Zealand.
Indignation grew in Australia last month after the Australian Financial Review reported that Apple had met secretly with politicians in Canberra after declining the opportunity to make a public submission to the committee.
Adams told BusinessDay in May that she intended to keep an eye on the investigation.
But Brislen said he did not believe the Government needed to wait to see what came out of the Australian inquiry before putting its own wheels in motion.
"The Consumer Affairs Ministry should be leading the charge because it is blatant and obvious that New Zealand companies and consumers are paying an awful lot more for things they shouldn't be," he said.
2007: Auckland businessman Neil McGregor is landed with a bill of more than $3000 for downloading a single 400-megabyte file over Telecom's mobile network when visiting Australia.
2009: Australian Chris Beltcher blogs that he was charged A$850 (NZ$1100) using his mobile to capture and stream a five-minute video at a conference in Napier.
2010: Wellington businesswoman Liz Price returns from holiday in Australia to discover she has been charged $3500 for two hours of internet use.
2011: Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen runs up a $1800 bill in three days in Australia using his mobile to email, make calls, send text messages, use Twitter and visit the odd website.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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