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The Israeli Consumer Council said Sunday it is investigating Partner Communications and Cellcom in response to numerous complaints from frustrated cellphone users who claim the companies are "unfairly" billing roaming fees.
Ehud Peleg, director-general of the ICC, is demanding that the cellular service providers cease the practice of charging roaming fees for calls made near the country's borders without properly informing customers that these fees will be charged and that they switch to a system that doesn't automatically bill these roaming charges anytime a call is made near the country's borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
"Customers were automatically billed much higher rates - without prior knowledge - and we are calling on these companies to return the stolen money to the customers," said Peleg, who did not specify how much had been "stolen."
Partner and Cellcom employ GSM technology in their phones, which is the Global System for Mobile communications used by over 2 billion people across more than 212 countries and territories. The popularity of the GSM standard makes international roaming very common between mobile phone operators, enabling subscribers to use their phones in many parts of the world. However, the technology automatically switches the cellphone into the best service area as the user moves from place to place something that often can lead to roaming charges when the customer leaves the country.
Israeli cellphone users, even without leaving the country and without knowledge of this practice, have also been assessed these fees when venturing into areas that are near the service areas of other countries, such as in Eilat, the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights, the council charged.
The "out-of-country" roaming fees that are charged can reach up to NIS 10 per minute above the average call made within Israel's borders, a very significant and damaging charge, noted Peleg.
"There is no reason for this additional charge and there should be no difference in price because these calls are also made from within the country," he said.
The fact that Partner and Cellcom have not broadcast these charges when signing-up customers is illegal, added Peleg.
Responding to the council's charges, the communication companies said they are rectifying the situation by altering phone settings so they do not automatically switch to foreign servers, however, if a customer placed a call before the settings were changed, a roaming fee will be assessed.
Partner claimed that anytime one of their customers enters into a "roaming zone," an SMS text message is sent notifying the customer of the change in service area.
In order to prevent and refute these charges in the future, the consumer council suggested carefully checking monthly phone bills and immediately contacting the company and demanding a refund if any charges appear that indicate that a customer made phone calls from outside of the country despite not leaving.