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ACCAN calls for ban on silent number fees

Peak consumer body ACCAN has made a submission to the federal government calling for the ban on what it is calling "Telstra charging for privacy".

Peak consumer body ACCAN has made a submission to the federal government calling for the ban on what it is calling "Telstra charging for privacy".

(Hungarian Telephone Factory 1937 image by Takkk, CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you want an telephone number to be unlisted in the White Pages directory in Australia through Telstra, it will cost you extra money on top of your line rental fees — at least AU$2.93 per month. Depending on whether the customer is with Telstra or a reseller, which generally passes the Silent Line fee on to customers, sometimes with a surcharge, this fee can be as high as AU$4 per month.

In February, the telco announced that it would be changing its policy and waiving the Silent Line fee for customers who are under a protection order or at risk of violence — but, ACCAN asserts, this doesn't account for everyone who may need an unlisted number, and has called on the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications to remove the fee for all customers.

Limitations on Telstra's current policy change include: it does not cover the fees charged by other providers, including Telstra resellers; not all vulnerable customers are protected by the parameters of the policy change; and that every consumer should have the right to privacy free of charge, regardless of whether they are under threat.

"Under Telstra's policy, many people who rightly need a Silent Line will still be forced to pay the fee," said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin. "It's clear Telstra aren't going to remove this fee for all consumers, which is why we're calling on the government to act. We want to make sure all Australians do not have to pay for this privacy protection."

Telstra has not disclosed how much revenue its Silent Line fee generates, but a 2007 estimate published in The Sydney Morning Herald put it at around AU$30 million annually. In 2008, Telstra brought in AU$24.6 billion in revenue, with a profit of AU$3.7 billion. Telstra, ACCAN argues, can afford to waive the fee.

You can read ACCAN's submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications online here (PDF).