The way mobile phone charges are calculated is anything but transparent, and we frequently find them very confusing. Fortunately for consumers, next week will finally see the start of a process that will ultimately make bills easier to follow and reduce the risk of people on contracts getting unexpectedly large bills.
Picture by Graham Crouch/Getty Images
From September 1, any company selling mobile phone services in Australia has to abide by the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code. We wrote this up in detail when it was first finalised in July. The code will eliminate confusing terms such as "cap", require providers to give a clear indication of calling and data costs, and provide alerts to consumers when they have come close to using their credit.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the rules for contract plans don't all take effect at once, but will kick in over the course of more than a year. These are the key dates to note:
- September 1 2012: Signing up to the code becomes a requirement.
- October 27 2012 : All providers must indicate unit pricing, including the cost of calls to Australian numbers, sending a text message in Australia and downloading 1MB of data.
- March 1 2013: All providers must offer a Critical Information Summary, including unit pricing and also how many 2-minute calls you could make with the supplied amount of credit.
- September 1 2013: Large providers must send text messages indicating when you have used 50, 85 and 100 per cent of your credit.
- September 1 2014: Smaller mobile providers must provide usage indicators.
For more detail on each of these stages, see our earlier post.
Stopping phone companies from hiding their conditions in small print and making actual costs difficult to calculate is a worthy goal. That said, if you are signing up for a phone plan, you shouldn't be relying solely on the new information or the headline cost of a plan. For instance, the new data won't help you factor in extra options such as free calls to other users on the same network, or the cost of voicemail.
Analyse your own usage patterns. If you make loads of calls and send lots of texts, look for a plan which offers unlimited options there. If you're a data addict, that can be more important than the cost of calls. Remember, you'll be on a contract for 12 months, and more often 24 months; taking time up front to determine if you'll get value for money is important.