When blogger Cameron Slater toured Australia for three weeks, he never thought his biggest bill would be for data, $7230 — or $328 a day.
Branding the charge “extortion”, the Auckland businessman is demanding the Commerce Commission investigate roaming fees.
More commonly known as “Whale Oil,” Slater is on a standard Vodafone 1GB a month package. On his June road-trip, he used his laptop and Vodem to surf the internet and compile the blog, taking under two hours a day.
Bill records from Vodafone NZ show 218,808.9kb of data was used roaming on the Vodafone Australia network, charged at 1 cent a kilobyte.
On other networks, 164,905.984kb of data was used, charged at 3 cents a kilobyte.
Slater has complained to Vodafone NZ saying the data bill was more than the cost of his petrol, accommodation and car rental for the entire trip.
He told them a local Vodafone customer in Australia would have paid $49.95 for the same data usage and a Telstra customer just $24.89.
“For your information your charges are 5963.11% and 12068.75% above Vodafone and Telstra respectively. I fail to see how an electron sent from my laptop is any different from an electron sent from an Australian laptop in Australia,” he says.
“These charges are immoral, unconscionable and utterly unjustified by any measure you care to choose. This matter will most certainly be raised with the Commerce Commission with regards to predatory pricing,” continued his email.
Vodafone NZ customer support replied GlobalRoaming was “a premium service” attracting premium rates from other telcos and consequently domestic limits don’t apply.
Vodafone NZ spokesman Paul Brislen says such charges are the “standard flat rate around the world” and it was what the Australian telcos, for example, charge Vodafone NZ for roaming.
“Vodafone NZ does not set the roaming charge for international data roaming — the other carriers do, so we simply pass that cost on to the customer,” Brislen says. “Use a lot of traffic and you pay.”
Warning systems, he says, are not possible as customers are using other telco networks. They do not instantly inform Vodafone NZ of customer use, but only at the end of the billing month.
Vodafone Australia says its roaming charges are competitive and transparent.
Spokesman Greg Spears says Vodafone Mobile Connect users on either side of the Tasman can download a dashboard which tracks how much data they use and what they spend.
“The tools are in place for customers to self regulate,” he says.
Vodafone globally is also “reassessing rates across all Vodafone companies.”
Nonetheless, media commentator and fellow blogger David Farrar says $30 a MB is “incredibly high”. While Vodafone will have charges listed in terms and conditions, “a socially responsible telco” would look at text messaging or email to warn customers.
“This (receiving huge, unexpected data bills) happens to a lot of people. I travel overseas and because of that, I clearly ask upfront what it will cost me.”
Farrar says it is much cheaper to use the hotel’s wireless system and he rarely uses his datacard overseas.
Internet NZ executive director Keith Davidson agrees $30 a MB “does seem a little high.” He says Vodafone should let users set their own data limits, where delivery would stop or a message received to stop such unexpected bills.
Brislen says Vodafone’s website has tips for global roaming, like switching off automatic updates.
“Customers need to read the website,” he says.
Slater, meanwhile, has learnt from this experience. When visiting Vanuatu in July to perform some charity work, he used the free wireless broadband in his hotel.