I have just read Labour MP Chris Hipkins’ attack on overspending on mobile phones by senior civil servants, focusing on roaming charges incurred overseas.
It demonstrates “a laissez faire attitude to spending public money”, says Hipkens.
The taxpayer is being stung by bureaucrats downloading the latest version of Angry Birds.
There is an issue here, but it is not profligate phone use.
It is sky-high mobile roaming charges, and the National-led government's failure to address the issue head-on – as it did so ethusiastically with domestic mobile termination rates.
As ICT Minister Amy Adams has pointed out, it is easy to rack up $1000 or $1500 in mobile phone charges while travelling, simply through basic email and web browsing.
As Ms Adams’ predecessor in the portfolio, Steven Joyce, noted, high Transtasman roaming charges crimp business.
Under threat of regulation, Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees have all slashed their transTasman data roaming charges from as high as $30 a megabyte to as low as $1 or 50 cents a megabyte on some plans.
But that still equates to a nose-bleed $500 to $1000 per gigabyte of data, compared to around $25 per gigabyte on domestic mobile plans.
It is madness.
In 2012, you can't go to Sydney and use a smartphone as a smartphone without clocking up an outrageous bill.
And if you tether your phone to your laptop, or have a SIM in your tablet – oh boy, are you in trouble with your financial controller or bank manager.
The only safe travellers are New Zealand First MPs with their Nokia 3810s.
Better data cap alerts have been put in place. But as Ms Adams recently told NBR ONLINE, most people have no idea how “megabytes” translate into real-life phone use.
What Labour should be asking is why the government has been looking – and correctly diagnosing it – since early 2010 without doing anything about it (answer: because a certain Senator Stephen Conroy is dragging his heels, not wanting to add to his existing plate of telco fights – and our government doesn't want to push him. Ms Adams has recently agreed with NBR that Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees' voluntary cuts may not be enough).
The new mini bar
And as for Hipkins’ assertion that most hotels have free wi-fi – jeepers, what planet is that?
Most hotels have heart attack-inducing wireless internet charges that cover a tiny level of data. They look at wi-fi as the modern mini bar.
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