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Fair Go: Comparison site for mobile phone plans could be on the horizon

Spark, Vodafone, 2Degrees and other players who together cover 95 per cent of NZ mobile customers have agreed to look at how a consumer data right might work, and that could lead to a comparison site which customers could use to compare plans and shop for value easily.

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You might just be surprised at what we found when reviewing the mobile phone plans of viewers. Source: Fair Go

“The Commission has asked the industry to have a look at consumer data rights and that’s something that we’ve agreed to - today actually,” said Geoff Thorn, who heads the Telecommunications Forum that represents those companies.

The agreement has come just days before the deadline for those companies to respond to a recent open letter from the regulator challenging them to do better.

“Transparency is a serious issue in the market so what we all need to do is get on with fixing that transparency problem,’ Tristan Gilbertson, the top telco regulator at the Commerce Commission, said.

“For the operators, that begins with giving their customers a minimum of 12 months usage and spend information so that their customers can make informed choices.”

The Commerce Commission had a million bills from 80,000 customers analysed to try to gauge if many are paying for services they don’t appear to use. Its findings include that a quarter of us could save about $140 per year by switching to mobile plans that give us what we actually use and need. A smaller number – about 7 per cent - could be overpaying nearly $600 a year for mobile services we don’t use.

Gilbertson says Kiwis are probably too loyal and should shop around more.

“There's probably a loyalty penalty rather than a loyalty benefit that applies. The longer you’ve been with your provider or on the same plan, the more likely it is that a newer customer is getting a better deal than you.”

The telco forum challenges the numbers - some kinds of customers were not included in the study which overstates the problem. It says customers do get enough information.

Consumer NZ and Fair Go teamed up to check the mobile plans of viewers – Consumer’s head of research Jessica Wilson says it was hard to get the information needed to compare plans.

 “If you're paying more than forty dollars for your mobile plan, take a good hard look at it,” she said.

The telcos say they are trying to make the choices easier for their customers.

Spark told Fair Go it is on a three-year journey to drastically reduce the number of plans it offers and is contacting customers now to move them on to better value plans. Fair Go notices it is now possible to access 12 months of data usage info by diving into some post-paid accounts.

Vodafone told Fair Go it has been pushing its Endless Data plans hard since March but says that it can’t proactively contact customers who opt out of receiving marketing communications.

2degrees told Fair Go has always been a big fan of switching – as you’d expect from a challenger brand -  and says customers can view their usage for the past six months and can also go back and look at calling, text and data use for every day over that period if they want to.

Agreeing through their industry forum to look at that consumer data right may just be the first measure the telcos take so that people can eventually shop around for mobile plans, in the same way they can for power, broadband, hotels or rental cars  - if the companies follow through.