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Telstra accused of blatant money grab -

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Telstra accused of blatant money grab

The World Today - Wednesday, 11 March , 2009 12:18:00

Reporter: Karen Barlow

ELEANOR HALL: Australian pensioners and small business owners have accused Telstra of a blatant
money grab over its new landline costs.

The company is about to charge for STD and overseas calls in 30-second blocks rather than its
existing per second system.

Small business operators say they are astounded that they are being hit with new costs in the
current economic climate, and telecommunications analysts and pensioner groups say it will hurt the
elderly the most.

Karen Barlow has our report.

KAREN BARLOW: Telstra's billing change was announced in a mass mail out to customers. The letter
describes company's drive for efficiency and improved services.

From the end of this month, Telstra callers making STD or international calls on landlines will be
charged in 30-second blocks rather than per second.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde expects most bills will increase.

PAUL BUDDE: What you now get, if for example, if you make a call and somebody is not there, then
you're only charged for the few seconds that you have the connection. From now on, you will
actually be charged in, you know, 30-second intervals.

Now, you know, I would estimate that, quickly, a quarter of all calls of people that are not home
where you leave or message or whatever. So you really have a lot of calls that fall under the
situation whereby you only use the telephone for a few seconds but nevertheless, you're going to be
billed for half a minute.

KAREN BARLOW: People that haven't made the switch to mobile phones or internet phone calls are
likely to be the most affected by the change. Paul Budde pinpoints the elderly in particular.

PAUL BUDDE: What you see is that the people who are more technological savvy, that are the young
people, people that have, you know, perhaps a little bit better educated who have been able to get,
you know, their head around technology. These people typically have the use of the internet, they
used Skype, they use VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) voice over the internet.

So typically what you see is elderly people who still haven't got their head around the internet.
My mum is not using the internet or VOIP or things like that.

KAREN BARLOW: Pensioner groups says their members often don't have an alternative to landline calls
and they're extremely reliant on their telephones for contact with family and friends.

Charmaine Crowe is from the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association.

CHARMAINE CROWE: Look, we are very concerned about the charges that Telstra are going to be putting
in place. As far as we're concerned it's a blatant money grab and it's going to hurt those people
most who can least afford it, that being pensioners with landlines.

KAREN BARLOW: Why is that? What is it about pensioners that makes them hardest hit by something
like this?

CHARMAINE CROWE: Look, pensioners go to great lengths to try and keep their phone bills down
because they don't have a lot of money to pay bills, so they have to restrict their calls. And
changing the charging structure from per second to per 30 seconds is obviously going to increase
the cost of their calls. So they're going to really see quite a significant rise in their phone
bills.

KAREN BARLOW: Small business groups say it's the wrong economic time to make these changes.

The CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia is Jaye Radisich.

JAYE RADISICH: This latest action by Telstra borders on the unconscionable. I find it very
difficult to believe that this large company, that's being supported by government and supported by
many Australians for many years, turns around in a time when small businesses need all the help
that they can get to survive and introduce this new 30-second billing system.

Prices will go up, bills will go up, and that's what's putting yet again more pressure on small
business.

KAREN BARLOW: Telstra denies it's a money grab and says most of its customers are on plans which
have STD caps where calls have a maximum call cost.

A Telstra spokesman says the move to landline block charging brings consistency and simplicity to
its billing system, as fixed-to-mobile calls are already charged in 30-second blocks.

Callers to ABC Local Radio this morning says Telstra is not the be-all and end-all.

CALLER: How many telcos are there out there now - 10 or 20 or 30? I mean, why is this a Telstra
bashing exercise when people can vote with their feet and they can change their long distance
provider at any time?

SECOND CALLER: This is going to increase the rush of people to move to alternatives. Not just
alternative suppliers, but alternative means of making calls, like Voice Over IP, for example,
where you make a regular phone call over the internet. Skype is one example where if you have a
recipient at the other end who is also on Skype, that call costs nothing, nil, zilch.

ELEANOR HALL: Callers to ABC Local Radio this morning ending that report by Karen Barlow.