Consumers who make calls to 1800 or 13/1300 numbers from their mobile phone could see a difference to their bill if proposed changes by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) are made law.
In a discussion paper, <i>Numbering: Calls to freephone and local rate numbers - the way forward</i>, ACMA has outlined how the Australian Numbering Plan of 1997 would be updated so that mobile phone calls to 1800 would be free while calls to 1300 numbers would be reduced to the same rate as a fixed land line.
Acting ACMA chairperson, Richard Bean, said in a statement that the changes would reduce red tape by removing “redundant historical information” from the plan. Free-call numbers were introduced in 1997 to remove the financial barrier for those contacting essential services, but only fixed line customers can take advantage of the service.
“As an alternative to amending the numbering plan for 1800 and 1300 numbers, the ACMA would welcome any proposals from industry that would achieve the same outcome for consumers,” he said.
A directions paper detailing ACMA’s preferred changes will be released by the end of 2011 following consultation with the telecommunications industry.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), has welcomed the discussion paper after lodging a complaint, together with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Financial Counselling Australia (FCS), with ACMA about the cost of calls in September 2010. According to ACCAN’s research, calls to 1800/1300 numbers are currently charged at up to $1.78 per minute from mobiles.
ACCAN director of policy, Elissa Freeman, said in a statement that 14 per cent of Australians do not have a land line and always have to pay charges for free calls to companies such as Centrelink and energy providers.
“Our campaign partners [ACOSS and FCS] tell us that it’s people on the lowest incomes who are most adversely affected by these high charges as they are less likely to have access to a landline and more likely to use pre-paid mobile credit,” she said.
Freeman added that ACCAN had heard many “horror stories”, ranging from people paying $50 on a mobile call to their insurer to welfare recipients missing out on benefits because they could not afford to wait on hold to speak with Centrelink staff.
“We look forward to working with ACMA and the telco industry on the implementation details. Hopefully, fair calls for mobile users are not too far off,” she said.
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