Opinion: Why mobile phone plans aren't like groceries

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Opinion: Why mobile phone plans aren't like groceries

Finding a bargain in the supermarket is much easier now they’ve introduced unit-pricing. It generally tells you how much you’re paying per 100 grams, so it’s easy to compare different products. Australia’s telcos think they can win over customers by applying the same concept to phone plans, but it will never work thanks to all the detail in the fine print.

Why phone plans aren't like groceries
The telcos aren’t introducing unit-pricing because they care about us. They’re doing it because the government consumer watchdog has threatened to crack down on them if they don’t stop deliberately confusing customers. Unit-pricing sounds like a good idea but unfortunately it will probably only add to the confusion, because shopping for phone plans isn’t like shopping for groceries.
Unit-pricing works in the supermarket because we can all agree that 100 grams is 100 grams. But this isn’t the case with phone plans because very few telcos calculate your bill by simply charging you a fixed-rate per minute. Some charge flag fall - for example 30c when the call is answered before you even start talking. Then they start the meter. You might pay per second, or perhaps in 30 second or 60 second blocks.
Telcos also vary the call rate and flag fall depending on your cap, so you never really know what you’re getting for your money. So when hear of deals like “$1000 worth of calls for $49” - they're meaningless unless you know how much you’re actually paying per call.

It goes on
The confusion doesn’t stop here. If you’re comparing phone deals you also need to allow for the SMS rate, plus the fee for checking your voicemail. Then there are bonuses such as free calls or texts at certain times, or to certain phones (such as family members or other phones on the same network). And we haven’t even touched on data. Telcos charge different rates for data depending on your plan and whether it’s pre- or post-paid. Some such as Optus have even been know to charge for pre-paid data in 10MB blocks.
It's pretty clear that unit-pricing will be useless unless every telco agrees to scrap the fine print and bill you the same way.
Confused yet? That’s why they call it a confusopoly, and it’s what the telcos rely on - not to mention the banks and other businesses known for screwing their customers. Unit-pricing sounds helpful but they’re just more weasel words from the telcos to hide the fact that their profits rely on keeping you in the dark.
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