Smartphones drive rise in mobile gripes

The smartphone revolution has driven a surge in complaints to the telco watchdog from thousands of exasperated consumers who are getting caught by hefty mobile bills.

Complaints about high mobile bills - including one man's $12,500 debt - to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) doubled in 2011/12, driving a nine per cent rise in mobile gripes.

Overall, telco complaints fell by two per cent to 193,702 but concerns about mobile phones made up two-thirds of them at 122,834, the TIO's annual report says.

"This year, we have seen far too often in literally tens of thousands of case, consumers who come to us frustrated, exhausted and emotional after being unable to resolve often very simple complaints with their service providers," Ombudsman Simon Cohen told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

Mr Cohen said while some telcos were improving their customer service, others were failing to address issues with data and internet usage charges, leaving their customers shocked by unexpectedly high bills.

This variation saw complaints about Telstra drop 21 per cent, while gripes about Optus and Vodafone jumped 47 and 11 per cent respectively, he said.

The report cites the case of one man who copped a whopping $12,500 bill due to global roaming charges, which he managed to beat thanks to the ombudsman organising conciliation talks.

The man insisted he'd pre-arranged an international roaming plan - which proved to have been inappropriately recommended by his telco - before heading overseas but the company insisted he was liable for the debt.

The watchdog's conciliation efforts saw the telco offer to reduce the debt by 75 per cent, then 90 per cent, before it eventually waived the lot.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus says a huge uptake of smartphones saw mobile network traffic grow by more than 100 per cent last year, and estimates two thirds of mobiles will be internet-enabled by the end of 2012.

Consumer lobby group Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) says the surge in phone bill price complaints is concerning.

"This is a worrying trend, because unaffordable phone bills can lead to serious credit problems for consumers if they want to apply for a credit card or a mortgage later on," ACCAN said in a statement.

Federal Communications and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy said while the overall decrease in complaints to the TIO is encouraging, telcos could do more to resolve disputes with customers when they arise.

Mr Cohen said the rise in mobile phone complaints highlights the importance of new spend-management rules which are being imposed on carriers from 2013 through the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code.

Under the code, telcos must notify customers when they reach 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of their mobile plan's data usage.

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