ACA asked to safeguard Internet dumping

The Australian government has told the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) to implement safeguards for consumers against unexpected high telephone bills and Internet dumping.

According to the Government, Internet dumping takes place when an Internet user is connected to a premium phone service without often knowing, and without receiving information about how much the process will cost. These connections are mostly made through 1900 numbers (such as 1902, 1900).

The user is connected to their regular Internet service provider (ISP), when, without their knowledge, the line is disconnected and Web software, again downloaded without their knowledge, automatically calls an international or premium rate number, charging the customer for the time the computer remains connected to the call. These services can cost more than US$3 per minute.

Developed in response to consumers concerns about the practice of Internet dumping, ACA will implement a cap on premium phone services, subject to further consultation.

The Government has also directed the ACA to investigate other measures to address consumer concerns about unexpected high bills and access to Internet diallers, including whether the premium rate service providers’ self regulatory code of practice should be registered under the Telecommunications Act 1997.

Telecommunications Manager of the ACA, Paul Slocum, said the ACA was developing a service provider rule which would be released for public comment and feedback.

“We will be looking at all options and recommending to the minister what options are available for this problem,” he said.

Executive manager of Telecommunications Licensing at the ACA, Paul White, said it was trying to achieve better protection for consumers by focusing on premium telephone service education through providers.

“The ACA is going to recommend a greater set of information from phone companies to end users,” White said. “This information will include pricing details and what alternatives there are for preventing Internet dumping. Immediate action for users is to cap 190 numbers.”

The ACA will consult with key stakeholders in formulating its proposals, taking account of costs to industry and the benefits to consumers, and will report back by July 31, 2003.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO), John Pinnock, said complaints relating to Internet dumping had increased by 24.6 per cent to December 2002 and totalled 750.

Internet dumping complaints accounted for 20 per cent of all landline billing complaints to the TIO in the quarter to December 31, 2002.

The Government would like consumers who are concerned about unexpected high telephone bills, to block access to premium rate services from their telephone.

Consumers can also install filtering software on their computers to block access to offensive material.