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September 23, 2014
Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mobiles incorporated into Price Watch

Communications Secretary Norberto Berner speaks in June about mobile phone companies’ transparency, flanked by Trade Secretary Augusto Costa.
Customers will have top-up option between 10-33 percent cheaper, as of August 15

Mobile phone calls to any other cellular devices will be available at 1.47 pesos per 30 seconds for pay-as-you-go users as of August 15, the government informed yesterday, confirming the incorporation of the sector into the Price Watch scheme of quarterly price reviews.

From the 31st second onward, each second will then cost the caller five cents, regardless of the company of those who made and received the call, but customers will have to call their provider to opt in on what has been dubbed the National Top-Up Plan (Plan Prepago Nacional).

The plan therefore doesn’t make rates uniform for all providers, rather obliging them to offer the PPN as an option to clients.

PPN’s call rates are between 10 and 22.4 percent cheaper than the current top-up rates offered by Movistar (Telefónica), Personal (Telecom), Claro and Nextel.

Moreover, the plan will differ from the four established telecommunications companies that charge increasing rates according to the physical distance between the person placing the call and the other receiving it.

The setting of rates to browse the Internet, and send text and multimedia messages was also a part of the agreement — signed on Monday by Trade Secretary August Costa and Communications Secretary Norberto Berner and the companies.

If users opt in on PPN, they will be charged 74 cents for text messages and 1.20 pesos for multimedia messages, while downloading Internet data will cost 1.95 pesos for Nextel clients and 2.50 pesos for customers of the other three companies.

Personal and Claro currently charge 99 cents per text message as standard, while Movistar charges 2.45 pesos per day of Internet access. Fines were brought against Personal, Claro and Nextel for not providing full information on all of their top-up rates, but it was unclear why Movistar was not sanctioned, as the firm does lack many of these details on its website.

Text messages were thus made between 10 and 33 percent cheaper, but Internet access was made more expensive than on Movistar and Claro.

The PPN will also offer “push-to-talk” or radio calls, which will be more expensive than the service currently offered by Nextel during the first 30 seconds, at 32 cents for the first 30 seconds and one cent per second thereafter.

No distinction will be made between peak and non-peak hours for all calls, while customers will have the option to choose one free number for text messages and calls.

Berner said that overall, the PPN provided “considerably cheaper rates,” indicating that like the rest of the Price Watch scheme, the programme was designed both as a reference point for consumers and to create fair competition between the companies.

The official explained that mobile phone users will be able to opt-in on the scheme “freely ... keeping their original number.”

In an interview with local daily Página/12 published on Monday, Costa said that targeting top-up users was key “because that’s the area where companies take the most advantage” adding that “prepaid plans account for 70 percent of all users.”

A lingering problem

The government forced telecommunications firms to begin charging by the second at the end of 2013, also commanding the companies to implement a higher degree of transparency with regard to the provision of tariff information for clients.

But despite calls for transparency and investment to improve the quality of the service, in March, Claro, Movistar and Personal, the main operators in the country, implemented rate hikes of between nine to 18 percent. While companies promised more investment to improve their networks with the extra funds, the government criticized the increases saying they did not have the required authorization.

The irregular and frequently unreliable service provided by phone companies has made them among the most unpopoular firms among customers.

Although Berner recognized “there is much left” to be done, he pointed to progress in a context of “explosive growth” in mobile phone consumption.

“We have gone from 4.5 million mobile phones (in circulation) in 2003 to 63 million” today, he said.

Herald with Télam

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