The cost of internet access and downloadi' />

Phone companies accused of 'entrapment' over 'extortionate' roaming fees.

Smartphone owners who use their gadgets overseas are being warned to brace themselves for "bill shock".

The cost of internet access and downloading abroad incurs roaming fees up to 300 times higher than domestic charges.

The Commerce Commission and telecommunications watchdogs have received complaints about high fees for devices such as iPhones and BlackBerries, here and overseas.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman said bills of $1000 a month or more for overseas use were common.

He knew of one case involving a Kiwi who clocked up $24,000 of charges in a few weeks.

"People go overseas without any concept of how quickly these costs can mount up," said Newman. "It's what's known in the trade as bill shock and unfortunately it's a recurring story."

Newman said the underlying costs of international mobile roaming were "extortionate", particularly where data was involved. "The prices are out of touch with reality."

According to Telecom's website, it costs $1 for 10mb of data use in New Zealand compared with $30 for 1mb in countries such as Vietnam and Japan.

Newman urged consumers to educate themselves about the various charges but described the industry's approach as "a process of entrapment".

"They're talking up how wonderful it is to do all these connections, then, when the customer is vulnerable, they can suck an awful lot of money from them in a short time."

The Commerce Commission has received complaints about excessive data bills but will only get involved if the provider has breached the Fair Trading Act.

A spokeswoman said there was an onus on telcos to disclose "unusually high prices". The Telecommunication Dispute Resolution Service has also seen an increase in complaints.

While most related to landlines or laptops, spokesman Neil McKellar said eight concerned smartphones.

The service wants providers to make it easier for customers to monitor their data use.

It wants them to warn consumers when they near the data limit on their pricing plan and offer automatic capping when the limit is reached.

Vodafone spokesman Paul Brislen acknowledged roaming fees for data use were "stupidly expensive" and said providers around the world were working together to lower them.

Telecom spokeswoman Julia Bell said bill shock had eased in the past 18 months as customers began to better understand the ins and outs of data use.

Both companies offered advice on keeping bills down, including data use calculators on their websites and text alerts.

"Whenever new technology comes out people have to learn how to use it and how to pay for it. Once they get it, then it's fine," said Bell.

Domestic charges
Vodafone

For $10 a month you get 100mb of data, enough for about 3000 text-only emails or two hours of YouTube browsing, which the company says most customers find ample. The casual rate is $1 a day for 10mb if you don't sign up to a plan.

Telecom

Also offers a casual rate of $1 a day for 10mb. Extras can be added to any plan - for $6 you get 20mb, for $12 you get 120mb and for $18 you get 240mb, which is enough to send 7200 text-only emails or browse 9000 mobile web pages.

Let us know
Consumer Watchdog wants to hear what you have to say. Are you upset about customer service? Has a company given you a raw deal? Are you unsure about consumer rights? We want to know. Contact consumer affairs reporter Alice Neville on (09) 373-9365 or alice.neville@hos.co.nz.