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26 October 2023

Telco providers fail to improve their billing apps for the second year in a row

Consumer NZ has reviewed the usefulness of New Zealand’s major telcos’ billing apps for the second year in a row and is disappointed by the lack of progress made. The Commerce Commission engaged Consumer to undertake this independent review.

In 2021, the Commerce Commission asked the telcos to improve their information to customers around usage and spend so they could easily compare plans. Consumer NZ’s 2022 review found there were significant opportunities for improvement. This year's review found overall, not much has changed.

“After initial positive steps from the industry, it’s disappointing that further improvement seems to have stalled” says Tristan Gilbertson, Telecommunications Commissioner at the Commerce Commission.

Consumer NZ’s 2023 review found the Spark, One NZ and 2degrees billing apps still present information about their customers’ phone spend and usage in awkward and inconvenient ways.

“The Commission now sees a case for investigating the introduction of a “right plan” obligation that would require providers to tell their customers when there is a better plan based on their usage and spend.”

The results

  • 2Degrees came out on top for the second year in a row. Its customers are best equipped to assess their own needs, with an easy-to-find, clear and detailed summary of spend and usage. However, like last year, 2Degrees is let down by its annual summary which still lacks historical spend information.
  • One NZ performed better than last year, when it was still known as Vodafone. Its annual summary was rated higher than the other telcos – providing clear average monthly usage information, a monthly breakdown of data used and information on other plans. However, the app only reports usage over a two-to-three-month window and information about a customer's “regular” or “extra” plan spend is displayed across multiple menus, meaning customers have to do the maths themselves.
  • Spark came joint second with One NZ. While its billing app does have easy to understand data on usage and spend, it is still hard to find. However, in the past month, Spark has launched a new initiative where customers receive a summary of their actual usage and plan recommendations based on a six-month period. While Consumer has not been able to consider the new initiative it in its assessment this time around, it notes that Spark should consider basing plan recommendations across 12 months in order to factor seasonal trends, which play a significant role in data use. Nevertheless, the initiative appears to be more comprehensive and consumer-friendly – a good sign Spark is trying to improve.

Why transparency is important

“When you look at how phone spend and data usage is presented on these billing apps, it’s no wonder that over two-thirds of us have stayed with our mobile phone provider for five or more years,” says Nick Gelling, product test writer at Consumer.

“Customers should be able to access basic information about how much data they’ve used and how much it’s cost them. This would enable people to make informed decisions about whether they're on the best plan for their needs.

“Data, calls and texts are virtually the same across all providers, so telcos should expect their customers are looking for the cheapest plan out there.

“Being on the wrong plan can cost you hundreds of extra dollars per year. It’s worth seeing what you can understand from your telco’s billing app and switching if there’s a cheaper option."

Read the full review here.