Backgrounder: Freephone and local rate numbers review | ACMA

Backgrounder: Freephone and local rate numbers review

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: 08 March 2013