Phone bosses told to smarten-up over high download bills

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Mobile phone companies have been urged to do more to stop consumers facing large bills when they download music and video to smartphones.

Communications chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said the problem had become worse as more people accessed data on their phones.

“Most of the operators are playing by the rules, so that then begs the question, the rules, what they ought to be,” he said.

“I think there are three things operators need to do: first of all, be very clear what they mean by ‘unlimited’ in advertisements; secondly, give advice to consumers so they know when they are actually reaching their limit; and thirdly, give people advice on the amount of data that is being downloaded.”

Concerns have risen about people being hit with unexpectedly large bills after going online, and it is becoming more common for people to download bigger files, including songs, videos and emails with large attachments.

The ombudsman’s office said some mobile phone packages offer “unlimited” downloads and consumers may believe their mobile phone bill will not go above a certain amount.

“Consumers may fail to realise that there is a small asterisk next to the word ‘unlimited’ which refers to small print stating that there is in fact a limit which, if exceeded, will incur further charges,” it said.

The Advertising Standards Authority has looked into the matter and decided it is acceptable to use the term “unlimited”, as long as the customer is made aware of the limits and that it does not affect the typical user.

“This is an emerging problem which could cause real consumer detriment – we want mobile phone companies to take action,” the ombudsman’s office said.