Tari, a public relations officer, did a double take when she received last month her phone bill, which was more than double previous months' bills."I was receiving SMSs on information that I did not ask for. It turns out that I was charged Rp 2,000 (about 21 U.S. cents) for each message I got," she grumbled. "I joined a quiz by sending a message to the cellular operator once, and since then I have been receiving unwanted SMSs," she said. "These days technology comes at a price. A price we have not agreed upon that is."
Billing complaints over telecommunications services are common as the industry grows. "Some of the people I know seem to have problems with telecommunications services, from erroneously deducted credit to the inexplicably high value of phone calls," said Tari.
Recently, a group of consumers of telecommunications firm PT Telkom complained they had been charged Rp 2,000 for a service they never received. In the next couple of weeks, the Ministry of Information and Communications will issue an instruction requiring operators to provide protection as consumer billing complaints are increasing in number. "For example, every feature that operators offer must be made available on demand. Customers must be familiarized with the extra charges that come with the services," said the ministry's director general of post and telecommunications Basuki Yusuf Iskandar.
The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), however, received just 54 consumer billing complaints in 2004. Complaints over the uncharacteristically high value of calls were the most common with 25. Others complaints ranged from administrative problems to service quality. "The resolution of billing problems is an uncertain area for consumers, although clearly they are the ones being abused," said YLKI representative Karunia Asri Rahayu. "Currently, consumers always end up having to pay for services they never demanded in the first place."
The new regulation to be issued will deal with customers who have been billed for unasked for services. Among the features to be regulated are voice mail box, call forwarding, call waiting, three party calling, abbreviated dialing, detail billing and ringtone services. Operators will be required to familiarize consumers on their service charges for a period of at least one month, during which they must cease the applicable services. The features can again be made available after the Telecommunications Regulatory Body (BRTI) is informed of the service contracts made with the customers. Other details on the problems of the erroneous deduction of credit and unexplained billing will be finalized in the next couple of weeks. "There will be sanctions but we will most likely rely on the operators' good faith to follow the instructions," said Basuki.
There were 40 million cellular subscribers as of September 2005. Compiled data from telecommunications service providers reveals that the cellular business is worth between Rp 40 trillion to Rp 50 trillion annually, with SMSs contributing Rp 10 trillion to the total amount.