Telcos split on mobile 1800 proposal

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Telcos split on mobile 1800 proposal

Over 100,000 contracts require renegotiation.

Mobile carriers have warned that a proposal to kill charges for mobile users to dial 1800 free call numbers would force them to renegotiate up to 400 contracts a day.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority's discussion paper, issued yesterday, proposed to eradicate the charges for the calls.

The decision will affect some 100,000 organisations that run 291,000 active free local rate numbers.

Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton told attendees of the Commsday Summit in Melbourne that the proposal would require renegotiation of these individual contracts, many of which were five-year commitments.

"If we're going to meet the 12 months deadline the ACMA suggests that means renegotiating about 400 contracts each and every business day for the next 12 months. No mean feat," Stanton said.

He pointed to the additional costs in facilitating the calls and continued drops in mobile rates over the past ten years as reasons to maintain the status quo.

"I don't think any of us should underestimate the potential disruptiveness of the recommendation that has been made," he said.

Major carriers were split on the matter.

"The challenge for the ACMA is [to] create a level playing field so that zero rated calls from mobile phones do not unfairly play to the advantage of fixed line players," Matthew Lobb, general manager of public policy at VHA said.

"There are also outmoded interconnect arrangements that would not not adequately compensate mobile carriers for free rating 13, 1300, 1800 calls.

"So we would encourage the ACMA as part of its review to examine the complete and complex picture of costs incurred by mobile operators and the charges made by fixed line providers."

An Optus spokesman said the telco supported the views of the Communications Alliance, of which it is a member.

Telstra was non-committal but said it would continue to work ACMA on the issue. The telco continued to charge the call rates for mobiles but folded 1800 numbers into its recently-announced Freedom Connect plans.

Non-issue?

Stanton cited statistics from the ACMA signalling fewer than 24 complaints made a year about the cost of dialling 1800 services from mobiles, indicating it was not a "high profile issue".

Neither the ACMA nor the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman could verify the complaint numbers when queried by iTnews.

An ACMA spokesman said it relied on general consumer confusion rather than complaint figures as evidence for its proposal.

In a survey, the ACMA found 36 percent of respondents could not recall the cost of calling a 13/1300 number from a mobile while a further 44 percent did not completely understand the costs of dialling a 1800 number.

Stanton's comments were criticised by Theresa Corbin, chief executive of the advocacy group, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

"Financial councilors and communities legal centres, groups representing young and old consumers tell us their constituents are suffering because of the cost of these calls," she said during her Commsday speech, citing evidence from ACCAN's 70 member organisations.

"Let me tell you, the people we represent have never even heard of the ACMA and very few have heard of the TIO."

Corbin said it was "disingenuous for industry to pretend that this is an issue that does not matter to consumers".

There had been movement on the issue since ACCAN began championing the matter in November last year.

In June, the Federal Government injected $18.2 million over three years to cover the charges incurred from mobile phones to hotline service Lifeline.

A spokesman for Vodafone Hutchison Australia said the telco had also ended call charges for Kids Helpline and State Emergency Service numbers earlier this year.

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