Trans-Tasman mobile roaming

has announced:

Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce today released a discussion document on trans-Tasman mobile roaming.

The discussion document has also been released in Australia by Mr Joyce’s counterpart – Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Minister Senator Stephen Conroy.

The document is at MED.

The document sets out three preliminary conclusions for New Zealanders roaming in Australia and Australians roaming in New Zealand:

  1. the features offered and the quality of service are reasonable
  2. the transparency of prices appears to be inadequate and consumer awareness of prices seems low
  3. the prices themselves seem relatively high.

Can’t disagree with 1 – roaming works really well in Australia (and in fact in most countries.

I’ve previously blogged about the outrageously high prices. Vodafone has recently announced a reduction, which is good.

No 2 is for me, the most important. People need to be told upfront about the cost of roaming data. Some of the possible measures proposed are:

Centralised website. A website where, for example, a customer is able to select all the domestic operators from his or her home country and see, on a single page, the best (lowest) rates that they each charge for trans-Tasman roaming (for postpaid and prepaid, and for each visited network).

I doubt this will achieve much as people don’t tend to decide on a carrier based on their international .

Personalised SMS on arrival. Operators send their customers one or more personalised SMS when they arrive in a destination, indicating the price they will be charged when roaming (for voice, SMS and data23). To avoid unwanted SMS, this could be an opt-in service, or a ‘pull’ (one that requires the customer to send an SMS first) rather than a ‘push’ service.

This generally happens with Vodafone, which is good. I think it should be mandatory for all networks to send you a message alerting you to the roaming rates in a country.

SMS after use. In some countries, such as the United States it is common for operators to send an SMS to a domestic customer each time they complete a communication, to indicate the price of the communication and (in the case of prepaid users) the remaining account balance. This could involve either a ‘pull’ or a ‘push’ service.

The initial SMS is often received when you have landed at the airport and are pretty distracted. Having an SMS arrive after say the first MB of data would also be useful. I wouldn’t mandate it to occur after every use, but if people after 1 MB get a message saying “You have already incurred $30 of charges” it would be effective.

Billing caps. Postpaid users, in particular, are vulnerable to unexpectedly high bills for roaming, even though many operators now make a practice (both on their websites and in their retail outlets) of warning customers of the prices involved, especially for data roaming. Billing cap systems may present a solution, implemented on either an opt-in or opt-out basis.

Also potentially useful, so long as those who do not want to keep using mobile data etc can easily say they wish to exceed the billing cap.

The discussion document also looks at some price regulation options – both at wholesale or retail level.I would rather avoid price regulation, and focus on enhanced transparency.

This is a discussion document, so you can have your say by e-mailing submissions to MED.

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