The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) last Wednesday announced changes to the current telecommunications standards to alert customers to expenses incurred when on overseas networks. Unfortunately, the changes don’t even scratch the surface of what is required to give Australians ‘a fair go’ when it comes to overseas telecommunications charges.
The global roaming landscape has forever been in the telcos’ favour and with the sudden rise in mobile data usage, global roaming charges have become a cash cow they aren’t too fond of losing. Charges vary depending on your carrier and your plan, but for an example we are going to look at the most widely used Australian telecommunications carrier Telstra. I travelled to England last month and on landing was informed via SMS that I could purchase an ‘International Casual Traveller Data Pack’ as an add-on to my plan. For my seven-day stay in London, 500MB seemed a reasonable amount of data for my trip but I was well and truly gobsmacked when I saw the price of $550 for 500MB of data, or $1.10 per megabyte. What shocked me even more, was the fine print pointing out that Telstra customers who use data without a data pack in place when overseas are charged at $15.36 per MB, a price 1059 per cent more per MB than that of the lowest cost data pack on offer.
I was forced to do the only reasonable thing any traveller can do in that situation, to ditch my own sim card and to purchase a UK sim card. The sim card from UK company O2 cost just $33 and came with 500MB of data, 250 minutes of calls and 2500 text messages – coming out at just 6 per cent of the cost of the Telstra data pack. What’s really concerning is that the same $33 worth of data on the sim card from O2 would cost a Telstra user without any data pack the sum of $7680.
The telecommunications industry needs to be held accountable for their exploitation of Australians through global roaming charges. Research by KPM analysing the Australian mobile roaming margins confirmed that the charges were significantly above the cost of providing the service. The industry has no reason to change their practises until a regulatory body makes them, and the ACMA is the body to do this.
I will be sending this article onto the ACMA Telecommunications – international standards office and will share any response received.
Preventing bill shock
Don’t get taken to the cleaners by your telco when you next travel. Purchase a sim card for your destination online before you travel or make sure your first stop is the local phone shop to purchase one (some airports such as London Heathrow sell them in vending machines).
If you are purchasing your sim card at your destination, be sure to turn off Cellular Data and Data Roaming on your phone. If you are unsure how to do this, simply type into Google “how to turn off Cellular Data and Data Roaming on a iPhone” to find a walk through. Simply replace the word iPhone with whatever type of phone you have.