Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Flow says steps to simplify bills already under way

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2019 | 12:21 AMSenior Business Reporter
Kayon Mitchell, senior manager of corporate communications, Flow Jamaica.
Kayon Mitchell, senior manager of corporate communications, Flow Jamaica.

Steven Jackson

Telecom provider F low Jamaica says that the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has given the sector another week to formally respond to the ‘shock bill’ concerns highlighted by its regulator and that it fully intends to comply.

But the company also says that it is already taking steps to simplify its data packages and billing invoices even while acknowledging that it has more work to do.

The responses to the regulator on the findings of the OUR’s Billing Transparency Survey are now due by Friday.

“The OUR consultation document is a timely and relevant one. Having already embarked on this journey, we are currently reviewing the document, including the results of the survey, and will provide our formal response for publication,” said Kayon Mitchell, senior manager of corporate communications, northern Caribbean.

Shock bills are higher than expected charges for postpaid customers and credit depletion for prepaid customers due mainly to unexpected data charges.

F low said it began introducing introducing simple, new plans for both prepaid and postpaid users in April. These new plans, feature unlimited local calling and ‘always connected’ data, which aligns with its new direction to remove the issues of bill overages and bill shocks, the telecom said.

In what Mitchell describes as “a continuous journey” of product and process improvement, the telecom said it overhauled its roaming plans in 2018; customers are also notified of data usage, although there are concerns about unintended data depletion after day-plans expire as customers are pushed back on to pay-as you-go charges; and the My Flow app allows subscribers to monitor and control their accounts.

The OUR’s Billing Transparency Survey was conducted late last year and published in May. It indicated that nearly half of Jamaican mobile phone users continue to experience credit depletion, ‘shock bills’, and confusing data plans.

The OUR survey findings will form the basis for recommendations to telecoms on improving their billing practices, and it expects Digicel and F low to implement its recommendations within the next six months.

Digicel did not respond to requests for comment.

F low said it wants to continue engaging with its customers and acknowledges that increased awareness and information are needed.

“Going forward, we reaffirm our commitment to fair relationships with our customers, who can look out for ongoing enhancements and more public-education initiatives from F low,” said Mitchell.

The results of the survey indicated that 48 per cent of respondents had received at least one unexpectedly high bill/charge during the period being investigated. The major categories of shock bills included out-of-bundle charges, exceeding monthly limits, calls to international numbers, roaming charges, and exceeding data allowance.

Shock bills are not unique to Jamaica, and key case studies were found in many commonwealth nations and the United States.

The local and international studies led the OUR to recommend simpler pricing of plans; clear pricing details across all mediums rather than on websites, which it noted few customers visit; itemised roaming charges; explicit warning of charges associated with exceeding packages; explicit explanations on how to switch off plans; prepaid data-usage warning during plans and also when plans expire; and pricing caps for postpaid customers.

Jamaican telecoms are focusing more on data usage than traditional voice, which has led to diverse, new plans and strategies to raise revenue.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com