The Australian Communications and Media Authority today announced a new framework for call charges from mobile phones to 1800 and 13/1300 numbers.
Developed in close consultation with the telecommunications industry, the new arrangements take account of market changes in recent years and are intended to deliver a range of consumer benefits:
- individual mobile operators have made separate plans to make all calls to 1800 numbers from mobile phones free of charge and will be advising their customers about these plans in due course. These calls will be free for pre-paid mobile customers (even when they run out of credit but only until their service expires);
- mobile operators will offer ‘13-Friendly’ mobile plans in accordance with a guideline developed by Communications Alliance. Under these plans, calls to 13 and 1300 numbers will be charged against the included-value allowance on their plan, rather than billed separately. These plans will be available across all price points, so that all consumers can benefit from them;
- the industry is implementing an information campaign to alert consumers to consider whether a ‘13-friendly’ plan is appropriate for them when choosing their provider.
‘Individual mobile operators are finalising the arrangements to give effect to these initiatives and we look forward to all mobile customers realising the benefits of this approach in the near future,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
‘The ACMA is particularly pleased that these clear consumer wins have been achieved without direct regulatory intervention. Industry is to be congratulated for not only coming on board with updating the arrangements, but for adopting a leadership role that aligns with the importance of mobile phone services to so many people,’ said Mr Chapman.
These initiatives will work in conjunction with other protections – notably call and data usage alerts from mobile providers – which are now required under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code.
In developing its approach, the ACMA has considered the particular issues confronting vulnerable consumers who often need to contact government and support agencies. Vulnerable consumers should benefit from the broad initiatives outlined above and additional initiatives which include:
- a commitment from industry to communicating about those plans in ways that specifically take account of the needs of vulnerable consumers; and
- the introduction of ‘call-backs’ by high transaction government agencies such as Medicare and Centrelink, which enable consumers to avoid spending long periods waiting in call queues.
‘Both the ACMA and industry will monitor how these issues work out in practice. We consider this mix of actions currently represents an appropriate, pragmatic and balanced strategy that is most likely to result in short and long term improvement in consumers’ experiences,’ said Mr Chapman.
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Media release 34/2014 - 1 July
- The ACMA has implemented a framework within which it is intended that clear benefits will be delivered to mobile consumers.
- The ACMA proposes to accept plans from individual mobile operators to make mobile calls to 1800 numbers free of charge to the caller.
- It was the ACMA’s assessment that this framework will deliver real benefits to consumers more quickly than a regulatory outcome
- In relation to mobile calls to 13/1300 numbers, the ACMA is adopting a mixed strategy that has the following key components.
- The ACMA will accept the commitments from CA to undertake the following activities that are aimed at supporting and reinforcing the positive market developments for mobile calls to 13/1300 numbers:
- continuing to make 13-friendly plans available and make available information for customers to easily understand whether a plan is 13-friendly or not;
- developing and delivering communications programs targeting both consumers and 13-subscribers; and
- commissioning a quarterly consumer research program to track the migration of customers to 13-friendly plans and whether calls to 13/1300 numbers are a significant factor when the included value component of the mobile plans is exceeded.
- The ACMA intends to maintain a strong practical focus on vulnerable consumers, with the following strands:
- The ACMA will continue to monitor the availability of appropriate 13-friendly plans, given industry commitments to embed these approaches, and consumer use of them with a view to further consideration when the Guideline and associated strategies are reviewed in two years.
- The ACMA is developing appropriate mechanisms to measure and react to any significant decrease in the availability of 13-friendly plans, including how these might affect vulnerable consumers.
- The ACMA will pursue with CA consideration of engagement strategies which target low income mobile consumers and notes CA’s intent to engage with the Low Income Measures Assessment Committee to identify communication channels and content appropriate for this audience.
- The ACMA (through the Department of Communications and its participation in the Government Call Centre Forum) intends to continue to engage with high-transaction government agencies and not-for-profit organisations about strategies for meeting the communications needs of their clients.
- Both the ACMA and industry will monitor how these issues work out in practice to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from these initiatives.
- We consider this mix of actions currently represents an appropriate, pragmatic and balanced strategy that is most likely to result in short and long term improvement in consumers’ experiences.
- Charging arrangements for calls from mobile phones to 13 and 1800 numbers were identified as an important issue through consultation on the ACMA’s Numbering Work Program which commenced in 2010.
- Three main concerns were identified:
- The underlying price differential embedded in the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 1997 (the Numbering Plan) means consumers pay more when calling these numbers from mobiles;
- Confusion about the cost of these calls when calling from mobiles which may result in bill-shock; and
- Representation from ACCAN that vulnerable mobile consumers on low incomes are disproportionately disadvantaged by the price differential as they make frequent, long-held calls to important (and in some cases, essential) government and other services that are only accessible via freephone or local rate numbers.
- In late 2011, informed by its Numbering Work Program, the ACMA communicated its disposition that calls from mobile phones to freephone numbers and local rate numbers should be charged in the same manner as calls from a fixed telephone.
- This disposition reflected the following three principles:
- the Numbering Plan should reflect changing consumer use of telecommunications services;
- the numbering arrangements should reflect the legislative intent, including the objects of the Numbering Plan; and
- improved price transparency for consumers.
Mobiles calls to 13/1300 numbers
- The ACMA has observed developments in the mobile market which will benefit mobile consumers generally, including vulnerable mobile consumers. These developments include:
- A significant increase in 13-friendly mobile plans offered across all price-points for pre-paid and post-paid services.
- Change in behaviour by 13-subscribers, including high-transaction government agencies such as Medicare and Centrelink, to implement initiatives such as call back arrangements and growth in alternative contact methods including social media, web based applications and smart-phone apps.
- Data and call usage notifications and critical information summaries required under the TCP Code assist consumers manage their mobile phone spend and better understand their mobile plan.
- For mobile calls to 13/1300 numbers, the ACMA notes the price differential concern has largely been addressed by market developments and it is not clear that a regulatory change would deliver a net consumer benefit.
- Concern arising from confusion about charging arrangements has lessened over the last two years. Research indicates that although there is a low level of awareness of how 13 calls are charged, consumers who make more frequent calls to 13/1300 numbers are more likely to be on 13-friendly plans. Consumers who are on 13-friendly plans are likely to be less concerned about the charging arrangements for these calls as they are included in the value of their current plan.
- In addition, the usage alerts a mobile provider is required to provide to customers under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code when 50, 85 and 100 per cent of data/call value has been reached, will further assist customers to manage their call spend.
- However, concerns associated with vulnerable mobile consumers remain. Issues affecting vulnerable consumers are complex and broader than the communications industry. Within the communications industry, the commercial behaviour of mobile carriers is influential in assisting customers in making informed choices regarding their communications services.
- The ACMA notes the change in behaviour by 13-subscribers, including high-transaction government agencies such as Medicare and Centrelink, to implement initiatives such as call-back arrangements, the growth in alternative contact methods including social media, web based applications and smart-phone apps and other new post-paid plans that for example help consumers manage bill shock.
- In summary, while a regulatory approach would address the detriment caused by the price differential for vulnerable mobile consumers, it is not clear there would be an overall net consumer benefit from a regulatory change.
Mobile calls to 1800 numbers
- The ACMA was well advanced in progressing a variation to the Numbering Plan which would require mobile carriers to make calls from mobiles to 1800 numbers free of charge.
- Consistent with the Government’s deregulation agenda and with potential delay to implementing regulatory arrangements, the opportunity for a timely non-regulatory outcome was recognised.
- The ACMA welcomes plans from individual mobile operators to make mobile calls to 1800 numbers free of charge and ACMA recognises that this approach will deliver real benefits to consumers more quickly than a regulatory outcome.