A consumer advocacy group says it's welcoming home Kiwis as border restrictions begin to lift - but not the return of telcos' mobile roaming charges.
New Zealanders are hit by roaming charges when they use their mobile while travelling overseas. Similarly, travellers from offshore pay roaming charges if they use mobile during their visit to NZ (at least, if they don't buy a local sim card for the duration - which involved the inconvenience of a different phone number).
"Tuanz is calling on the operators on both sides of the Tasman to do away with this unnecessary charge as travellers start to arrive in their respective countries," Technology Users Association of NZ head Craig Young said.
"This would be in the spirit of the announcements as far back as 2013 by the Prime Ministers of both countries to empower regulators to ensure roaming prices were regulated."
But the telcos immediately pushed back, via Paul Brislen - who heads the Telecommunications Forum representing Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and others in the industry.
"I would have thought that most travellers would use Zoom or FaceTime for calls home these days," Brislen told the Herald.
But while the likes of Facebook and (in its basic version) Zoom carry no call charges, they still chew through data - which does cost when you're on the move and not always able to hook into free wi-fi.
It all adds up, according to Spark, whose 2021 annual report noted "the loss of $38 million in roaming revenues." The telco said the roaming decline had masked strong performance in other areas.
Earlier, telecommunications analyst Peter Wise pointed to a Commerce Commission survey of retail telcos for the 2019 financial year - that is, the last period before pandemic crimped borders - which found Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees had collective roaming revenue of $114 million ($90.7m from Kiwis roaming offshore, the balance from travellers to NZ).
Brislen said this morning, "It's important to remember that networks operating in other countries are owned and operated by other telcos and presumably they want to make a return on their investment.
"Roaming costs have reduced over time and there are plenty of deals available for travellers who are keen to make voice calls while overseas."
Brislen said phone charges had fallen overall, "year after year for a decade or so, in defiance of the rising cost of living. StatsNZ CPI data says Kiwis are getting far more for much less these days when it comes to telecommunications devices and services."
Vodafone: Nothing going on but the rent
Vodafone NZ corporate affairs lead Nicky Preston said, "Travellers don't expect to get free rent overseas just because they pay for a house back home, and likewise international roaming charges cover the rent for using another company's mobile network."
She added, "Roaming charges are based on us recouping costs, and we believe $7 a day to use your mobile like you're at home is a reasonable price for travellers."
If Vodafone customers don't want to incur international roaming charges they can instead use the telco's Wifi Calling for free, and make and receive calls or texts using a wi-fi signal, Preston said.
2degrees: Free Aussie roaming for business customers
A 2degrees spokeswoman said, "2degrees offers free Aussie roaming for business customers on all 2degrees Business plans, and has for a few years now. Business customers can use their NZ plan's data, minutes and texts like they do at home, helping them keep business as usual while travelling in Australia."
Spark: Real costs
A Spark spokeswoman said, "It is important to note that while travel between Australia and Aotearoa has significantly reduced over the last two years, roaming charges have remained in place for those who have still been travelling – so it's not accurate to suggest we are 're-starting' roaming charges."
She added, "Roaming costs for customers has significantly reduced over time, but the reality is Spark incurs hard costs that need to be recovered when connecting international calls, delivering text messages and transporting data use, not only between telecommunication providers but with third parties that carry and manage the connection between carriers."
Customers had the option of buying a local sim card, or using apps via wi-fi.
Clark: Operational matter
A spokesman for Communications Minister David Clark said it was an operational matter for telcos. Clark did not offer immediate comment.