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What is it with cellular operators these days? One minute they’re calling you up and offering you ADSL for free, the next they’re billing you for services which used to be free and chucking in charges where there used to be none.

The operator in question, this time, is Orange, who are keenly promoting their fixed-broadband business (which used to be known as Wanadoo) by offering free ADSL to anyone who spends more than 30 quid a month on a mobile package.

As one hand gives, so the other takes away and existing Orange customers were surprised to discover that itemised billing is now going to cost them £1.50 a month. Apparently customers didn't want it any more, which came as a surprise to the customers we spoke to.

Readers with very long memories will know that itemized billing is what gave US consumers free local calls in the first place: they wouldn't accept non-itemised bills, and itemising local calls wasn't economical; in Europe we just trusted our monopoly providers and paid whatever they asked.

SMS message delivery confirmation used to be free too, but that will set you back a penny a time and anyone claiming on their insurance with Orange might also be surprised to find a 15 quid “administration” charge being levied to handle their claim. This is waived for the first 6 months, and is mentioned in the insurance small print, but is still catching many customers out.

Why the decision to start charging for things which used to be free?

Could it in some way be related to the lack of income from 3G services, against enormous competitive pressure to reduce call and message charges? If they can't make money from calls and messages then they’re going to have to get money some other way; other examples of such innovative billing practices welcomed.®

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