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Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 12:35:30 PM
by lisa goh
Expensive updates: The problem of excessive roaming charges is hitting consumers everywhere worldwide, and governments are taking action, some with regulatory measures. -AFP
Better regional cooperation looks necessary to curb the problem of skyrocketing data roaming charges.
A MOBILE user who was in the United Arab Emirates for 12 days was slapped with a RM122,703 bill for data roaming. Another went on a four-day trip to Singapore and was charged RM23,000 for checking her e-mail.
Our Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek too received a bill shock – he was charged RM4,500 after data roaming for a few minutes in Indonesia.
With cases of excessive data roaming charges on the rise, should Malaysian telcos work out better deals with their roaming partners to provide cheaper rates for their subscribers?
An IT consultant who specialises in customer relationship management and billing systems for telcos believes they should.
“Owning a smartphone and travelling is now an everyday business affair. I think it’s high time that telcos work closely with their roaming partners overseas to come up with fairer usage charges to encourage more business and stop customers from getting bill shocks,” says the consultant, who declined to be named.
He says this would be a win-win situation for both telcos and consumers.
“If prices are too high, customers will just choose not to use roaming services,” he adds.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi agrees.
“International roaming charges are largely dependent on commercial arrangements between local service providers and foreign operators.
“Instead of regulating telco pricing, we feel that it may be more advantageous for the consumer to allow market forces to spur competition in order to offer consumers more choice and, more importantly, affordable rates,” he says.
However, consumers too should make an effort to find out what the roaming charges are (in their country of destination) before they proceed to use the service, or consider alternatives such as using flexi-roaming services or a local SIM card.
Perhaps it is time for telcos to take note.
It was recently reported that the Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia (CFM) found that complaints against telcos had increased in the last two years, with mobile data charges and data roaming as the main grouses.
In the first half of this year alone, a total of 2,989 complaints were lodged with the CFM. Of this number, 1,018 were on billing and charging. In comparison, 3,631 complaints were lodged last year, 1,1,91 of which were on billing and charging.
CFM also notes that the most complaints pertained to general billing disputes and disputes over data usage (refer to charts).
Ahmad Shabery says that his ministry is following this issue closely.
“We believe in healthy competition and self-regulation for the telcos and hope they will come up with competitive pricing and services that will benefit everyone.
“We are ready to take action, including introducing some regulatory measures – either on pricing or act against irresponsible parties who are deliberately profiteering from the public,” he says.
The problem of excessive roaming charges is hitting consumers everywhere worldwide, and governments are taking action, some with regulatory measures.
The Telegraph (UK), in an article titled “Mobile phone charges fall for EU holidaymakers”, reported that following new European Union rulings, a “price cap on downloading data means looking at maps, checking emails and sending pictures while travelling in EU countries will be 36% cheaper, and 91% cheaper compared to 2007”.
The paper reported that further reductions will come into play in July next year.
It quoted Monique Goyens, the director-general of The European Consumer Organisation, saying that in a region where a single GB (gigabyte) can cost over ‚460 (RM2,010), “regulatory ramping down of prices is not just welcome, it’s necessary”.
Australia and New Zealand too appear to be working towards similar goals.
David Kennedy, Ovum’s research director for Asia-Pacific, in his piece, titled “Australia and New Zealand move on roaming regulation”, wrote that “after an initial review in 2010, the Australia and New Zealand governments concluded that a full review of the competitiveness of the roaming market was required”.
“In August 2012, the governments of Australia and New Zealand jointly published a draft report on the roaming market between the two countries ... (it) found that profit as a percentage mark-up over cost in roaming markets was as high as 300% in 2011; this was actually down from 1,000% in 2009.
“In Australia, the responsible minister has directed the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), to prepare a mandatory standard to regulate Australian operators’ roaming practices (not including pricing). We expect the results of these policy initiatives to take effect in 2013,” he wrote.
(Ovum is an independent analyst and consultancy firm specialising in global coverage of IT and telecommunications industries.)
Back in Malaysia, there are also ongoing efforts to curb excessive data roaming charges.
Sharil says the MCMC implemented “accounting separation” last year, with international roaming as one of the services identified.
“This means that mobile service providers will be required to submit separate accounts for international roaming service. This information will provide greater transparency and clarity to the MCMC on the cost and profit for that service.
“Such information will enable the MCMC to assess the situation and take the necessary steps to address issues, if any,” he says.
He adds that the MCMC has also entered into a bilateral arrangement with the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) in April 2011 to reduce mobile roaming charges between Malaysia and Singapore and since May 1 that year, Malaysians and Singaporeans have enjoyed lower roaming charges.
“The MCMC is exploring similar arrangements with other regulators in the region, and we are currently working very closely with Brunei.
“As a regulator, we take the view that service providers must do better for consumers. Malaysians travel more now, and our service providers have to retain their competitive edge or lose out,” he concludes.
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