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January 9, 2003

Australian authorities poised to open up messaging services

From:, Australia - 09 Jan 2003

The Australian Communications Authority is looking at extending premium rate number services and allowing individuals to send and receive voice and data messages using non-mobile numbers, according to a discussion paper released yesterday.

Taking into account 21 submissions to a discussion paper released in October last year, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has released an options paper outlining proposed changes to the telephone numbering system, and is requesting final comment on the paper before 31 January 2002.

Carriers and other service providers are interested in offering value-added services to their customers, and believe that changes to the system used for messaging are necessary for the industry to reach its full potential.

New premium rate numbers, ranging from six to ten digits in length, are proposed for use as voice and/or messaging services. The numbers would begin with the digits 19, as current premium rate numbers do, and there is also a proposal that existing numbers, such as freephone (18), local rate (1300) and premium rate (190x) numbers be allowed to offer both voice and messaging services.

Short numbers are desired for services such as competitions and community participation in reality-TV, such as voting off contestants in the show Big Brother. "People following such programs tend to have their mobile phone with them on the sofa, and the key to viewer participation is related to the convenience of short codes to motivate the viewers to participate," read Telstra's submission to the report.

Even if these numbers were not charged at a premium rate, the increased usage of a shortened number would increase profits for the companies involved. "Experience with (very) short memorable SMS numbers in other countries would indicate that a far greater caller usage of SMS services might be achieved with the short numbers than with longer ones," said Telstra in its submission paper.

Another proposal in the paper is for the ACA to encourage industry to enable dual-use (both voice and messaging) on non-mobile numbers, allowing users to send SMS and multi-media messages to landlines. This would require carriers to undertake modifications to their network.

Although suggestions were put that carriers should be forced to offer dual-use lines, the ACA paper has decided to rely on market forces to encourage the adoption. This goes against the proposal from the Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD), which recommended that organisations be forced to reprogram their networks for dual-use.

"There may also be an opportunity for deaf people to lodge complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) if some services implement ‘dual use’ and other organisations decide not to take up this option," read the AAD submission.

Other proposals include developing clear service charging principles and implementing consumer safeguards.

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