In 2013, the most prudent new year’s resolution would be to mind your quota on your smartphone plan.
Users are still having a hard time managing their mobile data quotas and many are being slugged with unexpected charges, such as excess data usage that result in large bills.
In fact, the number of people who complained about a huge bill doubled over the past year, according to the 2011-2012 Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) annual report.
“This is a worrying trend, because unaffordable phone bills can lead to serious credit problems for consumers if they want to apply for a credit card or a mortgage later on," said Teresa Corbin, the chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
The source of the problems stems from the exorbitant costs of excess internet usage on a smartphone.
TIO report revealed that complaints about disputed internet usage charges increased by 150% and there was also a 30% increase in disputes about the total amount of a bill.
“One of the main issues is that most people have trouble gauging how much data they’ve used – or how many megabytes are required to, say, stream video or download emails. We’re pleased that some providers have already started sending out SMS warnings to their customers when they are at or approaching their data limit,” said Ms Corbin.
“People need timely, accurate information about their data usage to avoid an unexpectedly high bill.”
However, it’s no coincidence that complaints about unexpectedly high bills come at the same time that telcos are actually reducing their data allowance when introducing new plans.
Comparison site WhistleOut found new plans from Telstra and Optus has less value for calls and lower data allowance in the new plans.
In comparing iPhone 5 plans it also found that there are currently no unlimited data plans in Australia, unlike the UK and US, although these countries do have some tethering restrictions.
WhistleOut rates our iPhone 5 plans as competitive when compared to these other countries. It looked at cost and inclusions only, and not network coverage and speed.
To add insult to injury, more consumers have made complaints about credit dispute.
There was an 18% rise in complaints about consumers being listed for credit default while their debt was in dispute and the TIO report showed there was also a 16% increase in complaints about consumers being credit default listed without proper notification.
ACCAN spokesperson Elise Davidson said that since July last year less data is being included in new plans for the same price as older plans, effectively making data more expensive.
“Demand for data is increasing fast and we know that existing 3G networks are becoming congested, especially at peak times, so we question if this is simply a way for providers to manage congestion by offering their customers less data for the same money.
There should be some relief when the new rules come into play and users with the major telcos will get SMS usage alerts when they have used 50%, 85% and 100% of their data quota for that billing month.
[This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in PC & Tech Authority magazine]