Free means free: Options for calls to freephone and local rate numbers | ACMA

Free means free: Options for calls to freephone and local rate numbers

ACMA Media Release 101- 20 December 2012

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) has started a public consultation process to identify the best way to achieve the following objectives:

  • To make calls from mobile phones to freephone (1800) numbers free;
  • To make calls from mobile phones to local rate numbers (13/1300) numbers cost no more than a caller would pay for a local call from a fixed telephone; and
  • For these changes to be in effect by 1 January 2015.

A consultation paper released today seeks comment and feedback on two different options. Both would see a variation of the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 1997 (the Numbering Plan) to ensure that calls from mobile phones to freephone (1800) numbers would be free.

For calls to local rate (13/1300) numbers, one option would limit the cost by varying the Numbering Plan. The other option involves a range of industry initiatives that would see the development and promotion of mobile phone service plans in which the cost of calls to local rate numbers would be incorporated into the included value allowances of those plans.

'Industry support for free calls from mobile phones to freephone (1800) numbers is an important step towards meeting the objectives that the ACMA announced in April 2012,' said ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman.

'The ACMA looks forward to working constructively with stakeholders to identify the best approach to ensuring that the Numbering Plan reflects the changing use of telecommunications services such as calling local rate (13/1300) numbers from mobile phones, while also improving price transparency for consumers,' Mr Chapman added.

Written submissions on the matters raised in the paper are welcome. The deadline is close of business, 28 February 2013.

Submissions should be sent either by email to numbering@acma.gov.au or by post to Manager, Telecommunications Licensing, Numbering and Submarine Cables Section, Australian Communications and Media Authority, PO Box 13112, Law Courts, Melbourne, Victoria, 8010

Further background information is available below. Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.


Backgrounder

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) has conducted an extensive review and consultation program about telephone numbering arrangements over the past two years.

For the ACMA, the review has been a vital component of its approach to telecommunications reform and is its response to issues raised by consumers and industry through the ACMA's Numbering Advisory Committee. These issues reflect the deep changes in industry structures, service offers and consumer behaviour that have occurred since the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 1997 (the Numbering Plan) was made.

The review's vision is to make numbering flexible, so that new technologies, uses and potential markets can be more readily accommodated as they emerge.

A number of issues identified by the ACMA were addressed in December 2011 and July 2012 through variations to the Numbering Plan. They included:

  • providing additional flexibility for the use of general (geographic) numbers within capital cities
  • removing unused services types and redundant legislation from the Numbering Plan
  • ensuring additional capacity for the ever-expanding demand for mobile numbers.

One of the more significant issues examined by the ACMA has been the charging arrangements for calls from mobile phones to telephone services commencing with 1800, 13 and 1300. These services are known as 'freephone' and 'local rate services' and are used by businesses to provide a single inbound number on which their customers can call them.

Calls from fixed phone services can be made to freephone services for free and to local rate numbers for the cost of local call. In contrast, calls from mobile services to freephone and local rate numbers are generally charged on a timed basis. This can lead to high costs for long calls, including those where the caller is placed on hold for extended periods. The increasing proportion of consumers who use their mobile phone as their primary or sole communications service potentially makes this a large and growing issue for many consumers.

In April 2012, the ACMA announced that it would prepare an amendment to the Numbering Plan to make calls from mobiles phones to freephone numbers free. The amendment would also mean that calls from mobile phones to local rate numbers would cost no more than a caller would pay for a local call from a fixed telephone (see Option A in the consultation paper). The ACMA also announced that it would welcome other proposals from industry which would have the same effect for consumers. An industry proposal was put to the ACMA in November 2012 by Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (see Option B in the consultation paper). The ACMA is now conducting a consultation process about both options.

The broad intention behind the ACMA's review of arrangements for calls to freephone and local rate numbers is:

  • for the Numbering Plan to reflect changing consumer use of telecommunications services
  • for the numbering arrangements to reflect the legislative intent, including the objects of the Numbering Plan
  • to improve price transparency for consumers.

Last updated: 25 October 2013