We've all been there. Your phone buzzes: it's a message from your telco. "You have used 85% of your data allowance. At 100%, you will automatically be charged for excess data." You hurriedly turn of your 4G and leech off unreliable WiFi for the next 24 hours, but it's too late. You've used up all your data. Chances are, you had already used up all your data even before you got the 85% warning. Australian communications consumer group, ACCAN, yesterday called on telcos across Australia to introduce real time data notification systems, so that customers can avoid the unpleasant surprise of finding out they've overspent on data — after it's already beyond repair.
Data usage alerts of any kind weren't always an option, at least until September 2013 when the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code was introduced. This updated code included a compulsory requirement to send alerts to residential customers when 50%, 85% and 100% of data has been used, with information about the excess data fees the customer would incur included in the 100% warning. While these requirements have been proven to reduce (by around 6%) the dreaded 'bill shock' that many postpaid customers face, ACMA research shows that delays in receiving updates about data use are still the number one cause for dissatisfaction with the system. So while the amount of people receiving unexpectedly high mobile bills has decreased, ACCAN would like to see it shrink even further.
Warnings can be up to 48 hours out of date by the time they reach the customer, and while most telcos will 'helpfully' warn customers of this, it doesn't change the fact that it can render the alerts all but useless. At this point, Telstra is the only telco that provides real time alerts for its customers, as of last November, but ACCAN hopes that more will soon follow.
“Consumers not realising there can be a two day delay in the data usage notifications could easily use a gigabyte or two of data which would set them back between $50-$100. We’d like to see real time alerts being offered by all of the Australian telcos so all consumers can reap the benefits," says ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin. "Forty-eight hours is too large a gap to inform consumers they have reached their limit. We encourage the other telcos to follow suit and implement real time alerts as soon as possible.”