Regulations that would make telecom companies warn customers about high bills being considered

Regulations that would make telecom companies warn customers about high bills being considered

The telecoms regulator is to consider introducing new measures to prevent consumers receiving unexpectedly high bills as new research shows that one in five mobile phone users have experienced “bill shock”.

ComReg is examining whether it should introduce regulations to require telecom firms to provide usage or spending alerts to warn consumers when they are likely to exceed their monthly allowances on phone and broadband packages.

The regulator said alert facilities are currently not uniform or standardised here: “There is very little ability for consumers to select a spend alert or spend cap, and where these do apply, the limit is pre-set by the service providers and is in excess of the plan monthly fee."

It also warned consumers that a no-deal Brexit could also lead to increased charges for Irish people using their mobile phones in Britain:

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, mobile service providers will no longer be required to offer the ‘roam like at home’ rates to Irish consumers travelling to the UK.

ComReg said it is entirely a matter for phone companies to decide how to deal with such a scenario. However, it pointed out that consumers will still receive a data alert when their data consumption reaches a monthly limit of €61.50 while roaming in Britain regardless of what happens with Brexit.

ComReg has launched a consultation on possible measures to further prevent bill shock from domestic usage after a recent survey showed that 77% of consumers said they do not receive alerts to notify them they are close to or have exceeded their limit, while only 35% of consumers said they monitor their usage of calls, text and data.

Phone users who said they have experienced unusually high bills in the previous six months reported an average increase of €38 above their standard monthly bill.

Figures also show that 10% of mobile bill-pay customers regularly experience a bill more than €10 above their standard monthly bill. More than a quarter of cases of bill shock relate to voice calls, with almost a fifth relating to exceeding the data allowance.

Two out of five consumers who experienced bill shock admitted they paid the bill and took no further action.

In Britain, telecom firms are now required to provide alerts to customers when monthly limits they can set themselves have been reached. Alerts on data consumption levels are also mandatory in Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The regulator said it believes that facilities to enable consumers to monitor and effectively manage their consumption and expenditure should be available in a fully functioning competitive market.

ComReg said the risk of bill shock is slightly higher for bill-pay customers as they are billed retrospectively for charges that can be run up, in some cases, without a limit. The share of bill pay customers is growing and now accounts for 48.8% of all subscriptions.

ComReg claims that the main potential threat for bill shock comes from the use of non-geographic numbers (NGNs) such as 1850 and 1890 numbers as they are not included in the typical monthly “bundle of call minutes”.

“The NGN platform as currently structured is causing significant harm to many Irish consumers,” ComReg said.

However, it said calls to such numbers will cost no more than the cost of calling a landline number from Dec 1, 2019 and the propensity to incur bill shock fron NGNs would be largely reduced once implemented.

Data traffic from mobile phones is projected to increase tenfold between 2016 and 2022. Mobile data usage by Irish consumers grew by 30.2% in the 12 months to the end of June. The average data consumption per smartphone is now 6.7GB per month.

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