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Preventing unexpected high bills.



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21 April 2004 50/04

PREVENTING UNEXPECTED HIGH BILLS

I have directed the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to investigate industry arrangements to protect telecommunications consumers from unexpected high bills.

The ACA has also been directed to make service provider rules that require all telecommunications companies to provide customers with information on unexpected high telephone bills.

The ACA will report to me within six months on credit management measures that the industry has in place and whether it considers the actions and commitment of the industry to be adequate.

If industry fails to provide an adequate strategy, the Government will put regulations in place for the protection of consumers.

This decision follows an ACA report into unexpectedly high telephone bills, including recommendations designed to make sure that telephone companies inform their customers about the risks associated with premium rate services and action customers can take to protect themselves from unexpected high bills.

Unexpected high bills from premium rate services and problems caused by Internet diallers on international numbers can cause considerable financial hardship for unsuspecting consumers.

To address this problem, the Government is giving the telecommunications industry an opportunity to develop a comprehensive and wide-ranging credit management strategy.

The closure of 190 Internet dialler services in August 2003 removed the source of more than three-quarters of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about 190 services.

However, there remains a risk that consumers could unwittingly generate unexpected high bills if they are not clear about their rights and responsibilities when using services such as domestic and international long-distance calls, broadband services and new premium rate mobile services.

Shortly, I will issue a further direction to the ACA to make a telecommunications service provider determination that will set out appropriate restrictions on access by minors to adult content on new premium mobile services. This includes short messaging services and multimedia messaging services.

The ACA's report, Investigation into the need for additional regulatory measures in relation to the supply of Premium Services, is available from the ACA website at www.aca.gov.au

Media Contact: Carina Tan-Van Baren (02) 6277 7480 or 0439 425 373