Feeds

Hefty mobile bills should be capped by punters, says Ofcom

Latest brainwave to stamp out monthly heart attacks

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Analysis Ofcom will push for greater EU regulation to tackle steep mobile bills, and voluntary application of that regulation outside the EU, but won't force operators to do anything unless they do nothing.

In a statement (PDF, long, dull, insufficiently shocking) the regulator reports that data is now the biggest cause of unexpectedly high bills, and that international roaming caused most of the (estimated) 1.4 million surprise billing events that took place between April and September last year.

The EU is already addressing that, and should be passing more regulation in June, but Ofcom wants those rules applied to the rest of the world as well as at home.

Travellers within the EU are already supposed to receive advice on charges for voice, text and data services when their handset first roams onto a network. Data is also capped at €50 and network operators are required to send a text alert when the user hits 80 per cent of that, and cut them off at €50 unless the user requests greater data.

In June the EU is scheduled to extend those rules, as well as bringing in a Eurotariff for roaming data that all operators will be required to offer. That's worked well for voice calls, allowing operators to continue undercutting each other and offering value-added tariffs, but requiring all of them to also offer the Eurotariff as an effective, but not mandated, cap on the rate.

The details of that won't come out until April. Ofcom says that even if the EU doesn't act, it will require UK operators to implement something along those lines. It would also like to see UK operators applying the same rules to customers travelling outside the EU, and to extend the idea to customers at home too.

Restrictions for your own good

If that happens then contract users (and pre-paid, but the issue here is those getting a monthly bill) will be able to opt themselves in to restricted use. So one could decide to cap one's own use at, say, £30 a month, and the operator would be required to send at text when one hits 80 per cent of that, and cut off the phone at 100 per cent. One could then call up and have the cap removed, on demand, but it would require an interaction with the operator and some sort of authentication too.

That would also take the heat off bills generated by stolen phones, which Ofcom reckons is a small problem but one which makes a big difference to the minority it hits. Ofcom would like, eventually, to see the opt-in cap switched to an opt-out system requiring every mobile phone user to set their preferred monthly cap, but it's not going to insist on that just yet.

At home Ofcom has established that excessive billing is largely caused by users' lack of understanding about how they're charged for data - users don't understand why an hour spent viewing YouTube should be more expensive than an hour spent browsing Twitter feeds. That will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the early days of WAP. Back then networks struggled with the lack of customer understanding with a variety of billing models including by-the-page, by-the-minute and by-the-click, before settling on actual data consumption as the only thing that could be impartially measured and billed for, and set about explaining to customers what that meant.

It seems that conclusion was premature, or the education was impractical as data use expanded beyond the technically-literate (and, more importantly, the technically interested) so an alternative is needed and Ofcom's suggestions seem eminently sensible. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
YOU are the threat: True confessions of real-life sysadmins
Who will save the systems from the men and women who save the systems from you?
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.