Australia and New Zealand often boast of their close relationship, but if you use a mobile phone from Australia in New Zealand or vice versa, you’ll pay the same ludicrous roaming charges that apply to countries on the other side of the world. A joint government investigation which began back in May 2010 has finally issued a draft report, but all we’re going to get from it is a direction to make pricing clearer. Fat lot of help that is.
The report was announced this morning by Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and his NZ counterpart, Amy Adams. “The draft report makes it clear that telecommunications companies are stinging consumers on trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges and that their profit margins are excessive,” Conroy said. This we already know.
Options the report canvasses to solve the problem include making pricing for roaming clearer, introducing legislation which allows Australians and New Zealanders to be charged local rates in their respective countries, introducing price caps or making it easier to unbundle roaming so that you can use a different network when overseas.
Sadly, the government has gone for the least gutsy option. Conroy says he is “directing the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to put in place an industry standard for mobile roaming so that consumers know exactly how much they will be charged when they make a phone call, send a text message, or surf the internet, wherever they may be overseas”. In other words: we’ll keep rorting you, we’ll just make it clearer that we’re doing so.
Conroy is predicting that this will be in place within 12 months. I hugely doubt this. Let us bear in mind that rules to make phone companies disclose what it actually costs to make domestic calls were resisted fiercely by the industry, and won’t actually be implemented fully until September 2013. Comments on the draft report are open until September 27 this year, and I’ll be amazed if whining from mobile providers isn’t a large chunk of the submissions.
Even if ACMA does introduce a directive, that won’t help with costs. That would require legislation, and, just as we’ve seen with software pricing, a government making noise about an issue rarely equates to something actually happening.