Optus mobile customers will no longer be able to use certain international calling cards to make overseas calls beginning August 12.
The telco has dispatched letters to customers who have been making the calls informing them of the changes. One letter which made its way onto Internet forum, Whirlpool, states that the company “has made a commercial decision to no longer allow these types of calls”. The document also mentioned that the Standard Form of Agreement, which is not provided to customers when they sign up, has been amended.
The amended policy states: “Effective 12 August 2009, [Optus] may block access to a number [other than an emergency service number] if [Optus] reasonably require this to be done for technical, operational or commercial reasons.”
According to the letter, existing customers may cancel their services prior to September 2 without incurring cancellation fees but are still obliged to pay any outstanding usage charges or remaining phone instalments.
An Optus spokesperson told ARN that a “very small number” of customers had been dialling standard Australian numbers, which then reroute calls through an Internet gateway – usually VoIP -, to overseas destinations.
“Optus does not have a commercial agreement for the interconnect arrangements necessary for these calls, so we cannot continue to support them,” the spokesperson said.
Wholesale customers, such as TPG, will also be affected. Optus wants to clarify that only a set of Australian mobile numbers that have been used to reroute calls to international destinations will be blocked. The company would not specify to ARN which numbers were involved.
The measure to block certain numbers follows the telco’s move late least year to charge diverted overseas calls at the standard international rate determined by Optus.
Users of the company’s popular Cap and Timeless plans will now be left out in the cold since they do not include any international calls. With the changes, subscribers will only be able to make international calls either at a premium rate, use a calling card service that has a third-party arrangement with Optus (which the company could not provide a list of) or choose to bundle on an International Value Pack (IVP) at an additional cost.
While Buddecomm analyst, Paul Budde, acknowledged that the proliferation of cut-priced calling cards would have eaten into Optus’ revenues, he does not see this action improving the telco’s situation.
“People make a conscious decision to by cheap cards so I don’t think the company can suddenly win them back with this move,” he said. “It is not going to help Optus and they might even lose customers who also use their phones to make normal calls.”
Budde also said it was an obvious strategy to push the telco’s internal IVPs, which only provide discounted international calls to the top 20 calling destinations.
“It is an attempt to offer its own products but unless the company can put that out at a close to equal value to the calling cards, people are not going to buy into it,” Budde said.
The analyst stressed that frequent calling card users will be eager to seek a better deal and will likely take on Optus’ offer to escape an existing contract.
Fellow telco player, Vodafone, informed ARN that it does not have a similar policy in regards to the use of calling cards and has not made plans to follow in Optus’ footsteps.
In other Optus news, the company has hit back at the ACCC after the consumer watchdog took legal action against the telco's subsidiary for 'deceptive' conduct.