by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
Have you ever received a phone bill that was twice as high - or more - than what you expected? It doesn't necessarily mean that someone around the house has been making late-night 1900 calls! For many Internet users, particularly in rural and regional areas, it can mean that something has gone awry with billing on the telephone line they use for the Internet.
There are a variety of causes of this sort of unpleasant surprise, such as unknowingly making calls outside the local call zone, being time-charged for your calls if you use an ISDN modem to connect, and downloading software that tricks you into reconnecting your modem to the Internet using an international phone number (this scam is often found on adult Web sites).
Many of these problems - such as dialling out of the local call zone - are generally the user's own responsibility, and it is unlikely that any remedy can be obtained from their phone company or ISP. But other phone bill disputes often do turn out to be the phone company's problem, and if you cannot figure out what is wrong with your telephone bill it is worth at least investigating this possibility.
Telecommunications companies are required to comply with a number of codes of conduct approved by the Australian Communications Authority (the ACA). Some of these codes have been developed by the telecommunications industry rather than by the ACA and compliance with these is voluntary, however the ACA can direct the phone company to comply with these codes if it does not do so voluntarily.
Among the codes to be found on the ACA's Web site (http://www.aca.gov.au) are codes dealing with complaint handling (which set down time periods for complaints to be resolved), new connections and faults (which provide maxmimum waiting periods for service), billing (which deal with matters such as how far back items on your bill can go - namely 190 days), and transferring to another phone company.
If you make a complaint to your phone company which is not resolved to your satisfaction within 30 days, and if you are confident that the terms of service you have agreed with the phone company or the ACA codes of conduct are on your side, you can make a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO will help you to resolve the complaint at no charge to you.