Optus warns of unit pricing complexity

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Optus warns of unit pricing complexity

Billing systems 'not magic'.

Optus has spoken out against proposals to introduce unit pricing across telcos, warning common mobile and broadband products could not be priced the same way as "boiled rice".

The number two telco's director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai said the the notion, first proposed by the communications regulator, was possible but would require more complexity than Optus' current billing systems supported.

Industry group the Communications Alliance yesterday highlighted unit pricing as one of the major provisions in its revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections code, a public draft of which is expected to be released in coming days.

Other provisions were either agreed to by industry or pushed on by the communications regulator and included a ban on use of the word "cap" where a plan was not literally capped to a certain amount.

Communications Alliance chief John Stanton this week said unit pricing would likely be applied to standard national calls, SMS messages and data usage on post-paid plans.

However, Krishnapillai warned the proposition would be difficult to accomplish.

"Some form of unit pricing will be possible but because of the number of different plans and the different ways people use things, I think in some ways that will be harder to do than people realise," he said at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network's (ACCAN) annual conference this week.

He said Optus would not incur significant costs or time on implementing the issue but that it remained a difficult proposition

The telco would be required to educate staff on the pricing and upgrade its billing system.

The billing system was recently upgraded to include both fixed-line and mobile broadband products in order to deliver a near-real time alerts system introduced by the company this week.

"Be careful what you wish for," he said, warning that unit pricing would only work easily for "basic, simple products".

"What worries me a bit is, because of the thousands of plans and options that are across fixed and mobile and everything else, unintended consequences of unit pricing we'll have to watch very carefully."

Telco representatives on an ACCAN panel about customer service and broadband agreed on the need to more clearly explain the costs of a plan, including moving from per-megabyte pricing to a clearer, dollar value.

But they remained uncertain on the benefits unit pricing would provide.

The proposition is likely to be solidified in the self-regulated TCP code collated by the Communications Alliance, as well as the final Reconnecting the Customer inquiry report due from the regulator this Friday.

Optus goes "near-real time" on alerts

Though Optus was reluctant to fully support unit pricing, Krishnapillai said the telco was keen to offer consumers greater control over how they used their plan.

This included mandating data usage alerts for all broadband users, sending all users an SMS message or email when they reached 80 percent of their data quota and providing specific controls for those on international data roaming.

The company claimed to be one of the first in Australia to offer "near-real time" data alerts, which would provide up-to-date information within minutes of use.

It had previously been restricted by a 48-hour window for data collection.

The system had been trialled for some mobile users and on the network's hybrid-fibre coaxial network during the past month. It would be offered to all Optus fixed-line and mobile customers in coming months.

Krishnapillai said the system was two-and-a-half years in the making.

"As soon as somebody hangs up a call or a data session, you've got to get the information back from the other carrier if it's been overseas, or from the other mobile company if it's been on a mobile plan, or whatever the case may be, that's actually quite complex," he said.

"You've got to get that information into your system, rate it in terms of what price is going to be on, and get that back into the customer's hands."

The new feature was one of several alert-type systems Krishnapillai indicated the company would introduce in coming months. It required the company to integrate several disparate billing systems.

"We've heard that message for a number of years," he said. "It's taken us a while to do it."

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