Numbers don't add up for telco customers: ACMA

Growth in bundled plans and reliance on mobile phones causing consumer confusion over call charges

Much of the record-levels of complaints about telecommunications provider customer service could come down to a basic lack of understanding about billing and call prices, according to new research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

According to ACMA chairman, Chris Chapman, the research found mobile phones were now the primary means of communication for 47 per cent of Australians, while just 37 per cent relied on a fixed line service.

When it came to services purchasing, the research found that bundled plans had become popular with three in five mobile phone users and two in five home phone users reporting they had a usage plan.

Those who have a usage plan for only one service reported a higher proportion of calls from that service compared to the service without a cap or deal.

"Both of these trends are major factors contributing to a decline in consumers’ understanding of the price and location information embedded in traditional fixed telephone numbers, meaning that embedding this information may no longer be an effective mechanism to fulfil consumer protection needs,” Chapman said in a statement.

Chapman said confusion also often occurred with consumers’ understanding of 13/1300 and 1800 numbers.

“It seems these are confusing for many Australians compared to more frequently called numbers like mobile and local numbers,” he said.

“One in five Australians were either unable to define a local call from a landline or their explanation was incorrect."

The research comes on the heels of the latest round of reporting from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), which found complaints about Vodafone’s mobile network had doubled in the first three months of 2011.

Figures for the first quarter of the year, released this week, found a total of 14,670 new complaints were registered to the TIO about Vodafone between January and March, making up nearly a quarter of the more than 59,000 total number of new complaints registered during the quarter.

Complaints as a whole increased by 14,000 compared to the fourth quarter of 2010, and 17,000 more than the same period last year.

Ongoing issues with customer service prompted the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) to last month throw its weight behind an external review that proposes to provide more regulative power to the TIO.

In March, ACMA’s Chapman used his 2011 CommsDay Summit speech to tell telecommunication companies that while they had improved at customer service, they still had a long way to go.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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