Telstra repays $30m after overcharging

Telstra has begun issuing refunds of about $30 million after admitting it had been over-charging customers for global roaming services on mobile phones since 2006.

The telco has been writing to customers for the past month informing them that their data charges while they were travelling overseas had been “incorrectly calculated” and they would be given refunds.

Despite the over-charging going back to 2006 and involving tens of millions of dollars, Telstra only became aware of the issue when it conducted an audit earlier this year. It is understood the issue only affected Telstra but a spokesman for the telco blamed international carriers.

“Telstra became aware of an issue whereby some customers were charged multiple data session fees due to the way international carriers generate their data usage records,” the Telstra spokesman said.

“Once we identified the issue, we put immediate steps in place to prevent further multiple charging.”

Regulators including the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) were involved in securing refunds for affected customers.

Elise Davidson of the Australian Communciations Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said the challenge for Telstra would be getting in touch with ex-customers who are entitled to a refund but who are no longer with the provider.

“It is surprising that the inaccurate charging was undetected for six years and staggering to think of the number of bills Telstra will have had to review in order to provide refunds to consumer and business customers.” she said.

“All telecommunications customers need to be able to trust that their provider is billing them correctly.”

International carriers send data files to Telstra via a data clearing house for billing, and sometimes the carriers cut long data sessions into segments. The data files passed from the carriers have an indicator for when a data file relates to a part data session or a full data session.

It is understood that some carriers left the indicator for a part data session blank and that was interpreted by Telstra as a full data session, resulting in the data session fee being applied multiple times for a single data session.

Global roaming costs for Australians are some of the highest in the world and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman reported this month thatcomplaints about disputed roaming chargesincreased by almost 70 per cent in 2011-12 to more than 4100.

The same day the complaint figures were released, ACMA issued anew draft international mobile roaming standardthat would force telcos to warn consumers of exact charges while they are roaming and provide tools to monitor and manage their usage.

“We want the carriers to significantly lift their game on the whole transparency piece to give the consumers clear messages at the right time and the right warnings about costs, and then also to give them the tools they need to actually manage those costs,” ACMA member Chris Cheah told Fairfax at the time.

“We don’t think it’s that hard and they should be able to do it.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said Australian consumers were being “gouged” by telcos and slugged with “unacceptable”, “outrageous” charges.

The complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman included a consumer who bought a $129 monthly plan so she could make calls during a nine-week holiday in Europe, only to return to a bill of $75,000 bill, which subsequently increased to $147,908.

Another consumer, while on holiday in South Africa, thought his mobile phone was connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, so he used it to connect a laptop to the internet, but ended up with a $38,000 bill.

Mobile roaming complaints to the Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, represented about $8 million in disputed charges over the past 15 months and Mr Cohen said consumers were not being fully informed about the potential for extremely high charges and how they could protect themselves.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority said an investigation was underway into whether Telstra had breached the billing provisions of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Codes.

“The ACMA is working with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Telstra to ensure an appropriate outcome for all affected customers, including possible refunds,” it said in a statement.

“As this is a current investigation the ACMA will not be making further comment.”



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OPINION: Dreams and schemes no magic climate fix

THE recent United Nations climate conference in Doha demonstrated once again that the UN’s climate negotiations are proving too slow in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest climate science, released by the Global Carbon Project for the Doha conference, indicates the planet is on track for a rise in temperature of between 4 and 6 degrees later this century.

Unless urgent action is taken to reduce global emissions, our children and grandchildren will blame us for the volatile and dangerous climate we deliver them. The lack of progress in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is making some scientists argue that humanity needs to prepare an emergency strategy to cool the planet. This emergency strategy, so the argument goes, could be rolled out when serious climate change impacts start to bite in coming decades.

One emergency strategy that is attracting attention is geoengineering – the use of human technology to manipulate and control the climate on a large scale. It may sound like cheap science fiction, however various methods of geoengineering are being researched in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

In 2009, Britain’s leading scientific body, The Royal Society, produced a major report, Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty, on the prospects of geoengineering as a response to climate change.

Geoengineering has moved out of the fringe of climate policy discussion into the mainstream.

Stratospheric particle injection is a geoengineering technique that aims to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions by injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere.

There, the particles act like a giant sunshade, reflecting a percentage of sunlight away from the earth.

This method of geoengineering is being investigated by a collaboration of scientists in the UK known as the SPICE project.

It has been proposed to test technology to deliver particles into the atmosphere using a hot air balloon with a hose attached.

While the technology may sound simple, the chemistry of the atmosphere is very complex. The particles would likely change the appearance of the sky by making it whiter during the day and more colourful at sunset.

The particles may also damage the ozone layer, a layer of the atmosphere that filters ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth. The particles could also significantly change global rainfall patterns that are relied upon by billions of people.

Stratospheric particle injection may cool the planet in the short term, but it is little more than a Band-Aid measure. It does nothing to address the key driver of climate change, which is the rising level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Ocean fertilisation is a geoengineering technique that aims to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In the same way we add fertiliser to our gardens to make them grow, ocean fertilisation adds nutrients to the ocean to encourage the growth of plankton. Plankton consumes carbon dioxide, and could draw down enough greenhouse gases to lessen climate change.

In October a US businessman dumped an estimated 100 tons of iron sulphate off the coast of Canada in an attempt at ocean fertilisation. The experiment did not have the authorisation from the Canadian government and potentially breached international bans on ocean dumping.

Ocean fertilisation could cause damage to ocean ecosystems, increase ocean acidification and deplete the ocean of oxygen. As with stratospheric particle injection, the probability and nature of the risks of ocean fertilisation are uncertain and require further scientific investigation.

Technical ability to attempt geoengineering is already here. In the coming years, it will be difficult for countries to resist experiments in geoengineering as it has the allure of being a relatively inexpensive and quick response to climate change impacts.

It is therefore essential that geoengineering technology is developed and used responsibly and that it is effectively regulated at an international level. If countries deploy geoengineering hastily, without understanding the risks involved, they will be rolling a dice on causing further damage to the atmosphere and the environment.

International regulation is also important to ensure that the interests of all countries are considered.

Finally, geoengineering must not allow countries to take their eye off reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A rapid reduction in emissions over coming decades is crucial for us to provide our children and grandchildren with a safe climate in which to live well.

Kerryn Brent is a PhD candidate at Newcastle Law School, University of Newcastle; Dr Jeffrey McGee is senior lecturer at Newcastle Law School, University of Newcastle.

WASHED UP: The devastation caused by superstorm Sandy will not be checked without emission cuts.

Clubs want sporting chance over fees

Solomontown’s Shard Malchow runs on to the ball better than Central’s Samuel Carter, when Sollies won their final minor round game to claim the minor premiership. Photo: Des ParkerA former president of Spencer Gulf Football League says the league could be in jeopardy, after council voted to imposea new fee structure on Port Pirie sporting grounds.

The new fee structure, to be adopted for 2013 and 2014, has been two years in themaking.

It was adopted by council on Wednesday night.

Spencer Gulf Football League (SGL) is to be one of the worst affected, forced to pay $60,000 over three years for its use of Memorial Oval.

Former long-servingpresident Ken Jeffrey said the league’s current structure was now ‘in jeopardy’.

The fee increase, to $13,000 next year, $20,000 in 2014 and $27,000in 2015, would place a huge burden on the league’s finances, he said.

“It is likely that the SGL minor round in Port Pirie in the future, will run at a loss,leaving matches at Port Augusta to prop up the league,” he said.

“Matches at Port Augusta will not incur the huge expense of Port Pirie’s.Unfortunately the league, as it is now structured, is now in jeopardy.”

Junior soccer is tobe billed $5,000 per yearfor the use of Senate Sports Park. Other sports including cricket and baseball and softball would also be affected.

Councillor Dino Gadaleta voted against the policy, believing it wouldhave ‘severe’ repercussions on the SGL and junior sport.

“I’m very sorry that we did not have enough voices on the floor to defeat the motion,”he said.

Cr Gadaleta said he could notsee the SGL in Port Augusta subsidising Port Pirie football.

“I don’t believe gate takings will be able to support the payment of those changes,” hesaid.

But Councillor Mike Basley, who supported the move, said the process was about bringinequity in the system.

Administrative services assistant manager Peter Arnold, who spearheaded thechange, defended the fee structure in a report to council.

“The main sports affected are football, cricket, baseball, softball and soccer,” he said.

“It is common knowledge that some footballers in the SGL are paid large sums ofmoney.

“The committee believes very strongly that clubs should be contributing to theplaying fields before paying for the players.”

The new policywas moved and seconded by councillors Neville Wilson, and DebbieDevlin and was supported by councillors Garry Nayda, Mike Basley, Gerry Chivell,Debbie Devlin, Neville Wilson and John Rohde.

Councillors Dino Gadaleta, Joe Paparella and Shirley Hortin were against it.

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Dubbo residents stock up for the holidays

THE TRADITIONAL Christmas ham and prawns have topped the list as the most popular foods this festive season.

With only three days until Christmas, Dubbo residents are rushing through the doors to finish their last-minute shopping.

Midwest Foods retail manager Matthew Lambert said the store had been extremely busy the past few days.

“It has been quite slow in the lead-up to Christmas but we are making up lost ground,” he said.

“People are saying, ‘It only happens once a year, so we might as well go all out’.”

More than 2000 kilograms of the traditional Christmas ham have been sold and prawn sales had doubled this year.

“We’re running out pretty quickly,” he said. “People are stocking up big, no-one wants to realise they don’t have enough food.”

Frozen roast vegetables and pre-cooked turkey breast were popular with residents as it took the guesswork out of cooking it just right.

Mr Lambert said the advantage of Midwest Foods was most products were almost ready to go and not much cooking or preparation was required.

After a scrumptious Christmas meal, Dubbo residents liked to enjoy dessert and pavlova topped the list with the mango macadamia cheesecake at number two.

Several gift vouchers were sold this season and given as presents to family and work colleagues, he said.

“In these tough times it is a great present and people really appreciate it,” he said.

Dubbo residents were planning for the post-Christmas holidays and were stocking up on foods especially scotch fillet steak.

“They want to rest and not go out and find some food for dinner,” he said.

Mr Lambert said the store’s “pretty hard” advertising with the Daily Liberal had paid off with a much-needed retail boost.

“We expected it would help us but we never imagined it would be so helpful and make such a big difference,” he said.

His last words to residents before Christmas Day was not to leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute.

“Get in and get your ham and turkey now as supply is getting short,” he said.

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Midwest Foods retail manager Matthew Lambert has called on Dubbo residents to come in early and not leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute. Photo: Belinda Soole

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Safer streets in a roundabout way

WORKERS last night finished line marking on the roundabout at the corner of Hill and Dalton streets leaving the intersection open for traffic today.

Orange mayor John Davis thanked residents for their patience during the roundabout’s construction period.

“State government figures reveal in the five years to 2011 there’s been nine crashes at the intersection in which eight people were injured,” Cr Davis said.

“There’s been inconvenience for neighbours during construction but I’m sure drivers around Orange will welcome this new roundabout.”

The roundabout will provide two lanes for traffic moving along Hill Street and a single lane for traffic in Dalton Street.

Member for Orange Andrew Gee said the project, funded under the state government’s black spot program, was a good example of the partnership between state government and Orange City Council.

“Hill Street is the key north-to-south route from the main street to the botanic gardens and Dalton Street also has high traffic volumes from east to west in the city,” Mr Gee said.

“Local residents have reported many accidents at this intersection over the years and they’re delighted that these roadworks will improve road safety in Orange.”

The roundabout, built at a cost of $360,000, has a concrete base the same size as the one at the nearby Prince and Hill streets intersection.

As well as laying the concrete surface, an underground water main was relocated away from the intersection, drainage was improved and a new surface was added to the road in Hill Street.

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PARTNERSHIP: Orange mayor John Davis and member for Orange Andrew Gee celebrate today’s opening of the roundabout on the corner of Hill and Dalton streets. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 1221roundabout3

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