Optus gets nasty on Christmas eve
ANGRY customers have accused Optus of greedy behaviour after it cut off their access to cheap international mobile telephone calls on Christmas Eve.
The company texted customers this week telling them they would no longer pay local mobile-to-mobile rates for services that use the internet to make overseas phone calls.
The move forced at least two businesses offering the service to pull it from Optus customers on Christmas Eve, just as many were preparing to call family and friends overseas.
"I spend two hours a day calling India and the US," an Indian student studying in Sydney, who did not want to be named, said.
"It affects me because I have to pay $100 per month as according to my [phone] contract but now I have to spend more on using a calling card."
Consumers have flocked to companies offering the cheap service, which uses voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology to redirect national mobile calls overseas at no extra cost to the telco or customer, according to one provider.
The system allows customers on plans offering, for example, "10c for 10 minutes" or unlimited voice calls to networks within Australia, to call mobile numbers overseas but not pay any more than the price of a regular mobile call.
Telstra, Vodafone and Three all allow their customers to use the services but Optus texted its pre-paid mobile users to warn them they would be charged at international rates of 29c a minute.
Nizi Bahandari, from Freedom Calls, one of the businesses offering the service, said Optus was effectively overcharging customers for calls that did not cost the company anything extra. "We're not using the Optus network," Mr Bahandari said. "They just want customers to pay the premium international rates."
An Optus spokeswoman said she could not comment on whether the service was costing Optus more than the cost of a national mobile-to-mobile call.
But she said the pricing change was in line with the terms and conditions of its timeless and cap plans, which exclude international calls.
But Mr Bahandari said Optus should not be applying international call rates to telephone calls made over the internet and on another network.
"The number [that customers call] is on a Vodafone network and Vodafone gets paid [a termination fee] by the other networks," he said.
The decision has cut Freedom Calls traffic by 50 per cent because most customers had signed up to Optus plans in the belief they could use the mobile-to-VoIP services.
"We used to connect 15,000 to 20,000 minutes of international calls per day … now it's only 6000 or 7000 [minutes]," Mr Bahandari said. "[Optus is] trying to conquer the market by getting a really good plan and a good offer and suddenly they're changing the offer by saying it's not to their benefit because customers are using it for VoIP calling. It's the wrong thing to do."