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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1826

Mr Enderby asked the Postmaster-

General, upon notice:

(1)   Can a check be made on telephone accounts where a subscriber feels that there has been an overcharge.

(2)   How do errors in telephone accounts occur.

(3)   Can subscribers be given an itemised account of STD calls; if not, why not.

(4)   How many complaints concerning telephone accounts in the Australian Capital Territory have been investigated in the 12 months ended 31st March 1971.

(5)   How many of these complaints were found to be justified.

(6)   How many were found to be (a) overcharges and (b) undercharges.

(7)   Can a subscriber be charged for another subscriber's telephone calls; if so, how.

(8)   Has his Department investigated systems such as those used in the United States of America by Bell Telephone Laboratories where accounts are sent monthly, containing an itemised list of all numbers, dates and charges dialled outside the local area.

Sir Alan Hulme - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   Errors in telephone accounts are due either to human failure on the part of staff or to breakdown in the operation of the accounting or associated systems. Checking features are incorporated in all departmental operations so as to minimise the possibilities for error.

(3)   Subscribers cannot be given an itemised account of STD calls. An individual meter in the telephone exchange is associated with each telephone service. It records one registration for each local call. For STD calls it registers at various time intervals. For example, for a call from Canberra to Sydney which costs 72 cents for three minutes at the day rate, the meter would register once each ten seconds. At billing time the total number of registrations, local and trunk being inseparable, is charged at the unit fee rate, currently 4c each.

(4)   During the 12 months ended 31st March 1971 there were approximately 1,200 queries concerning telephone accounts in the Australian Capital Territory; this represents about 2 per cent of accounts issued.

(5)   Approximately 37S of these queries were found to be justified.

(6)   Overcharges were found in 125 cases; there were no undercharges in the accounts queried by subscribers. There was reasonable doubt about the accuracy of the trunk charges for another 250 of the queries involving operator-connected calls, primarily because of inability to identify the caller with the telephone number quoted when the call was booked and disputes regarding the length of time for a call.

(7)   There is a remote possibility that a fault may cause wires to be short-circuited and a subscriber's meter to be operated erroneously. The probability of this is very slight as precautions are taken in the design of equipment to reduce this possibility to a minimum.

(8)   The system used in the United States of America has been investigated (as has also those of other telephone administrations throughout the world). One basic difference between our two countries, however, is that in the majority of cases in the United States there is no meter associated with each telephone subscriber's service as there is in Australia. Because of the absence of meters it was necessary, for call charging purposes for the U.S.A. telephone companies to provide a separate Automatic Message Accounting System to record details of calls dialled by subscribers. This system was examined but in view of the fact that individual subscribers' meters were already provided, it was rejected as being too costly and complex to apply to the Australian network. The existing multi-metering system, which is used in Great Britain and most other countries, was adopted in preference.

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