An increase in the cost of calling international numbers on Virgin Mobile plans, which will see the per-minute rate of calling some places soar by 1289 per cent, has angered many customers.
On Monday, Virgin sent an email to customers telling them that it was “updating” its international calling rates and country groups for customers on its mobile Big Cap, Big Plans and Fair Go plans.
The email said the changes would come into effect on February 28, “so if you are calling overseas from your mobile after then, please take note of the new call rates and country groups”.
No justification for the price increase was given in the email. If customers had any questions, they were directed to discuss them with Virgin staff in Virgin Mobile’s online community forum.
One Virgin Mobile customer, Lydia Sper, said the changes were “disgusting”. She wrote on the public forum using capital letters to express her opinion about the price increase.
Ms Sper, of Melbourne, wrote that she used Virgin Mobile to call her fiance in Fiji. The telco used to charge $2 per minute for the calls, but from February 28 the charge would triple to $6 per minute.
“There is no justification in such a price hike!” Ms Sper wrote. “I will now search for another mobile phone provider who does not charge such ridiculous rates to Fiji.”
Another example, given by a reader who contacted Fairfax Media, showed a 1289 per cent price hike on mobile phone calls made to Tokelau from Australia. Virgin Mobile currently charges $1.80 per minute to call people on the ring-shaped reef north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean, but will soon charge $25 per minute.
Virgin Mobile community manager, Jordan Kerr, has been consoling customers in the Virgin forum, responding to their questions about the price increase. He said changes to the top 20 countries people called had been “minimal” and that the price hike had to do with Virgin Mobile recently charging customers for international calls to some countries at a loss.
“In recent times, the cost to Virgin Mobile of international calls has risen and we have had to pass these costs on,” Mr Kerr wrote. “Essentially we have been charging for calls to some countries at a loss and a lot of the reasons for the price increase are out of our control and include market shifts, international exchange rates, foreign government regulations and so on.”
In his comments to users, Mr Kerr added that in “the interest of fairness” it was worth noting that Virgin was one of the only telcos in Australia that included international calling credit in plans.
But this was a poor explanation for one customer, who told Fairfax that the price hike meant that the included international call credit with one of its $89 plans wouldn’t last as long as it used to.
The plan includes $89 worth of international calling credit and previously would have allowed for just under 49 minutes of talk time to Tokelau from Australia. But under the new international calling rates, the plan’s included talk time to the reef could be used up in fewer than four minutes.
In a statement, Virgin Mobile said it estimated that the changes would cause “inconvenience” for less than one per cent of its customers “who call the countries in the categories most affected”.
The statement linked to tips for people to use when calling international numbers.
The tips suggests people use email, social networking or Skype to stay in contact with people overseas as “making calls while overseas or to other countries can be expensive”.
It also suggests using a local SIM and not checking voicemail while overseas.
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