Communications Alliance has branded the proposal by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to make mobile calls to 1800 numbers free 'unrealistic' and said the plan has potential to cause major disruptions in the telco industry.
The industry group counts most of Australia's major telcos as members.
In a discussion paper released yesterday, ACMA proposed to change the way 1800, 13 and 1300 numbered calls are charged on a mobile service.
1800 numbers are currently free to call through a fixed-line while 13 and 1300 numbers are charged at the rate of a standard local call on a landline.
These numbers are charged at a premium when called from a mobile phone.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has lobbied hard for mobile and fixed-line calls to the numbers to be charged at the same rate. The ACMA has proposed to do exactly that, recommending 1800, 13 and 1300 numbers to either free and charged as a standard call through a mobile service; changes should be implemented within a 12 month timeframe.
Communications Alliance has deemed the ACMA's proposal unrealistic citing a number of reasons.
“There is definitely an attractiveness to the notion consumers ought to get these calls for free,” Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, said at the Communications Day Summit in Melbourne. “There are some complications which the ACMA alluded to tangentially in its discussion paper.”
One of the main issues is the higher cost to telcos associated with routing the calls in question to and from a mobile service compared a landline. Then there are the 100,000 contracts between telcos and companies related to 1800, 13 and 1300 calls, according to Stanton.
“There are numbering analysis changes involved, there are commercial interconnect arrangements that will need to be changed as well plus all the commercial contracts with companies that use those services – many of which are multi-year contracts – with prices and cost built into them that might need renegotiating,” he told ARN.
Should renegotiation be required, telcos would have to go through 400 contracts every working day for a year to meet ACMA's 12-month target, Stanton said.
“We will study in detail and respond [to the discussion paper],” he said. “But I don't think any of us should underestimate the disruptiveness of the the recommendation that has been made.”
Stanton also raised the point ACMA only receives around two complaints from consumers regarding the disparity between fixed-line and mobile call costs for 1800, 13 and 1300 numbers.
This was promptly shot down by ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin, who was also speaking at the Communications Day Summit in Melbourne.
“We have had over 70 of our member organisations endorse our fair calls for all campaign,” she said. “John Stanton tells us that only two complaints per month has made their way to the ACMA.
“Let me tell you, the people we represent have never even heard of the ACMA and very few have heard of the TIO. But financial councilors and communities legal centres, groups representing young and old consumers tell us their constituents are suffering because of the cost of these calls.”