JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Error on roaming fees costs millions

Date

Asher Moses, Peter Cai

TELSTRA is refunding customers about $30 million after making the embarrassing admission it has overcharged customers for global roaming services on mobile phones since 2006.

The telephone company has been writing to customers for the past month informing them their data charges while travelling overseas had been ''incorrectly calculated'' and they would be given refunds.

Despite overcharging going back to 2006 and involving tens of millions of dollars, Telstra said it only became aware of the issue when it conducted an audit earlier this year.

Complaints about global roaming charges have dogged telecommunications companies for years.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, an industry-funded dispute handling body, reported a consumer who bought a $129 monthly plan so she could make calls during a nine-week holiday in Europe, returned to a $75,000 bill that subsequently increased to $147,908.

Another consumer, in a case identified by the TIO, while on holiday in South Africa thought his mobile phone was connected to the hotel's Wi-Fi, so he used it to connect a laptop to the internet, but ended up with a $38,000 bill.

A spokesman for Telstra, which is believed to be the only Australian telco affected, blamed international carriers for the problems it had experienced.

''Telstra became aware of an issue whereby some customers were charged multiple data session fees due to the way international carriers generate their data usage records,'' the Telstra spokesman said.

''Once we identified the issue, we put immediate steps in place to prevent further multiple charging.''

Optus and Vodafone said their customers were not affected by the billing issue.

Rasad Merchant, one of the overcharged Telstra customers, said he was ''absolutely not happy'' with the company and demanded it explain how his refund was calculated.

''This has been going on since 2006; given the number of trips that I do per year, it will be a hassle to chase up all the bills,'' he said.

Regulators including the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) were involved in securing refunds for affected customers.

Elise Davidson of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said the challenge for Telstra would be getting in touch with former customers who are entitled to a refund but who are no longer with the provider.

''It is surprising that the inaccurate charging was undetected for six years and staggering to think of the number of bills Telstra will have had to review in order to provide refunds to consumer and business customers,'' she said.

Global roaming costs for Australians are some of the highest in the world and the TIO reported this month that complaints about disputed roaming charges increased by almost 70 per cent in 2011-12 to more than 4100.

The Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, said Australian consumers were being ''gouged'' by telcos and slugged with ''unacceptable'', ''outrageous'' charges.

Mobile roaming complaints to the Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, represented about $8 million in disputed charges over the past 15 months and Mr Cohen said consumers were not being fully informed about the potential for extremely high charges and how they could protect themselves.

ACMA said an investigation was under way into whether Telstra had breached the billing provisions of the telecommunications consumer protection codes.

''The ACMA is working with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Telstra to ensure an appropriate outcome for all affected customers, including possible refunds,'' it said in a statement.

Featured advertisers