Labour off-beam with mobile roaming attack

Labour state services spokesman Chris Hipkins


Chris Keall

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.

Oh brother.

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-fijeepers, 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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11 Comments & Questions

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Exorbitant roaming charges existed well before 2010 and the European Commission regulated them in EU in 2007.

Successive NZ and Australian governments are fully aware of this, so why the inaction?


Why not just have pre-pay sims?


Free wi-fi is something I always look out for when picking a hotel. For example the Bolton in Wellington and the Pullman or Quadrant in Auckland, have free-wi-fi.

However often it seems the fancier the accommodation, the less likely they are to have free wi-fi...


Where did the angry birds reference come from? Why not work related use?


One the one had, I feel like asking Where has this Boy Hipkins been all these years if he is finally aware of Global Roaming costs.

There again, it is gratifying that Labour has discovered fiscal produce since they never seemed careful with taxpayer dollars while they were in office.


I travel internationally regularly. Always turn off data roaming. Increasingly good hotels are offering free wifi. So many restautraunts and cafe bars also offering free wifi. My international phome costs are minimal.


It is ridiculous that one has to search out a cafe or similar to be able to connect safely.


Most hotels in the USA now offer free WiFi. I have just returned from a road trip there. I also got a prepay SIM for $US50 which gave me nationwide coverage, unlimited mobile national calls and txts plus 2GB of data, so I was able to use VOIP to call home. My wife used Vodafone roaming and had less than 50% coverage. My Orcon account offers free calls to one country, so I was also able to receive calls on my mobile from home. Total cost for 3 weeks with unlimited calls during my trip (including Orcon) around NZ$100. Surely civil servants have people internally that can advise them how to do these things? I'd be happy to help them out for a percentage of the savings!


Good thing 2degrees allows users to set a spend control so they don't end up with billshock, isn't it?


There are some points that have been missed in this discussion, particularly for New Zealanders roaming to Australia.

On calling, New Zealanders now pay the same price while roaming in Australia as they do for calls within New Zealand with Vodafone Traveller.

On data, Vodafone’s 50 cents per MB is one of the lowest data roaming rates when compared to GSMA international roaming benchmarks and is lower than the regulated retail price caps for data roaming in the European Union.

And later this year, we will be launching Data Angel for international roaming.

We go to great lengths to give our customers information about our trans-Tasman services with arrival text alerts and a dedicated section on our website for roaming pricing.

The end result is that New Zealanders travelling to Australia are benefiting from a competitive market with an increasing range of alternatives for trans-Tasman roaming services.

Sarah Newcombe
Head of Company Communications
Vodafone New Zealand


That the head of vodas regulatory team needed to pipe up speaks volumes here - I've worked in the telco industry for years, and companies like Voda have been making potloads off of mobile data roaming forever.

When roaming revenues are questioned (or threatened) the telcos wheel out their overpaid and othrwise ineffectual lawyers to add confusion into the mix and shift attention away fro the real issue which is of course the fact that we as consumers are paying potloads for something as basic as mobile data.

Sure New Zealanders pay the same rates in Aussie as they do in NZ for calling, but thats voice and 50cents per Gb is still a rip-off of epic proportions.

Regardless of what the GSMA stats say, and no matter how you package it (or what weasel speak your corproate lawyers wrap it up in), at the end of the day, a t*rd is still a t*rd, and the excessive rates charged for mobile data semells surprisingly turd like to me and many others given the profits being declared by voda, 2 degrees and telecom. If paying boatloads of cash to bloated multinational who has transferred hundreds of millions of dollars out of New Zealand to their UK parent office is benefiting from competition then I'll leave my mobile at home


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