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Sunday, 18 November 2007 10:51

1300 reasons to avoid Skype Pro in Australia

There are examples all around us of misleading and deceptive advertising, inflicted upon us either deliberately or due to the lack of attention to detail or even the incompetence of the advertisers. Where does Skype Pro stand in this regard?

Yes, it's yet another story about Skype, sorry about that but it's purely coincidental, and I'm forging ahead regardless! Anyhow, this article is not about the technology, but the details of how the Skype Pro service offering is advertised and how this turns out to be extremely expensive for Australian users when calling certain types of landline numbers.

By way of introduction, I'd regard myself as an innocent (?) technologist, merely a layman when it comes to advertising and the legalities thereof. To switch to an entirely different industry for a moment, I recently came across a local brand of milk that I'd never heard of before. In the client's refrigerator, sitting nest to a carton labelled (in capitals) LOW FAT was another one of the same brand labelled NO FAT.

As en ex-chemistry teacher, I know that milk gets its white color due to the suspension of tiny particles of fat in water, therefore what my scientific reasoning told me to expect to find in the NO FAT carton was a clear liquid. No surprises, though, when what came out was a white liquid! The compliance label clearly indicates that it does contain fat, albeit at a rather low percentage. Is this an example of deceptive advertising? Should it not have been labelled ULTRA LOW FAT or some such thing?

Moving on, I'm not here claiming that Skype has set out to be deliberately deceptive or misleading in the way that it describes costs for the Skype Pro service. But I got a nasty and quite unexpected shock when I saw the cost of one of the first calls that I made to an Australian landline



I've been using Skype since soon after it beta versions first became available, and have found that it works quite well (in a small business environment, at least, where Skype's security and network performance impact are not the showstopper that they can be in a corporate environment). Then when SkypeOut was released a few years , I became an early adopter and found that my 10 Euro basic fee would last me for month after month, despite making a number or half-hour calls to North America and Europe.

And more recently, along came Skype Pro with its claim: "Pay nothing per minute for calls to landlines within the same country. ... Skype Pro subscribers pay nothing per minute* to call landlines within the same country. [emphasis mine] If you travel to any of the following countries/regions you automatically pay nothing for calls made within that country/region as well."

Notice the asterisk appended to "Skype Pro subscribers pay nothing per minute" which points to a footnote:
    * Connection fee and fair usage policies apply.

Then under the heading "Got questions?" there's a link to How much does Skype Pro cost? stating "As an introduction offer, Skype Pro will be €10 for 5 months. After the initial 5 months, Skype Pro will cost you €2 per month. ..." and a bit more with nothing looking untoward.

All was looking good, so I enrolled for Skype Pro and started calling landlines around Australia, watching as for each call lasting for more than a few seconds the connection fee was deducted and that was all.

Imagine my shock when I called my bank's Customer Service landline (same capital city in Australia, not even  long distance) for a conversation that lasted around 11 minutes, then found that my Skype credit had been reduced by more than 2 Euros.

This means that single call had cost me more than the entire month's worth of intra-country Skype Pro calls are advertised as supposedly doing.

Naturally I complained to Skype customer service. I mentioned that originating a call from within Australia to numbers beginning with a 1300 prefix costs the caller just the local call fee, no matter where you're calling from in the country. I could have made that same call via regular PSTN for around 20 Aussie cents (say, 0.15 Euros), with the call being untimed. Your Skype Pro advertising does clearly state "Pay nothing per minute for calls to landlines within the same country" doesn't it?

Skype's response: ... "We apologise for the delayed response. Your feedback is important to us and it is our goal to respond to all customer e-mails within 72 hours, however due to a recent increase in inquiries it has taken longer to respond to you. Thank you for your understanding and patience.  These numbers are only low-cost number if called from a landline in Australia. [emphasis mine] If you call the number from outside Australia, these are not low-cost numbers. We have investigated this matter and are not able to lower the per minute rate for calls to these number, (sic) as this is what we get charged by our carrier. Sorry for the inconvenience."

What an absurd answer. Don't they understand plain English? I was indeed calling from a location in Australia (a suburb of Melbourne) to another landline in Australia (Melbourne central business district). What's going on here?



Further research for SkypeOut (not, repeat not, for Skype Pro) led me to the following page: International long distance calls at cheap rates and (as at date of going to press) the following entries for Australia:

Destination · Rate/minute

EUR excl. VAT

EUR incl. VAT

Australia € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia - Mobile € 0.165 € 0.190
Australia - Toll Free € 0.000 € 0.000
Australia-Canberra € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia-Shared Cost € 0.192 € 0.221
Australia-Special Service € 0.050 € 0.058
Australia-Sydney € 0.017 € 0.020
Australian Ex Territories € 0.550 € 0.633

By comparing what I was charged against the above table, I worked out that I had been charged at the "Shared Cost" rate of 0.192 Euros per minute. Wow! That's more than the cost of making an untimed call of any duration to that number via the Telstra landline office number.

In Australia, toll free numbers begin with 1800 prefix, and are at no charge to the caller from anywhere in the country. Twenty or more years ago the "13" prefix was introduced (with six-digit numbers of format 13xxxx), costing the caller only the fee for a local landline call. (Qantas was ahead of the pack yet again, and was allocated 131313.) The xxxx range of numbers ran out rather quickly, so the "1300" prefix was introduced (with numbers of format 1300 xxx xxx), also being charged at the local landline call rate.

I can deduce from my Skype bill that "13" numbers are being charged as "Special Service" by Skype, and "1300" numbers at the "Shared Cost" -- that's rampant usury, even higher than calling mobiles numbers is Australia! And there's absolutely no indication whatsoever in the Skype Pro documentation that such rates will be levied for 1`300 and 13 calls. If not deception, to my mind it's at least poor form if not negligence. I've laboured over the wording for pricing and terms of my own products on my own web site, and would never do such a thing as this.

I'm very happy with the SkypeOut service, from the product viewpoint. It's the administration that I'm upset about. All that I'm asking for is that they expand the Skype Pro documentation a little by explaining to their Australian customer base exactly what they're paying for, something like: "Pay nothing per minute for calls to landlines within the same country -- except for certain classes of landlines for which we'll charge the SkypeOut rate and not the Skype Pro rate and this will cost you much. much more than nothing per minute!"  I've laboured over the wording on my own web site for pricing and terms of my own products, and would never do such a thing as this.

Related to the above glaring "sin of omission", I strongly recommend that as soon as possible Skype more clearly explain and distinguish between the rates that they charge for the original SkypeOut and the newer Skype Pro offering. The Skype Pro advertising says not a word about charging (much) higher rates when calling certain landline numbers, it only refers to "calls to landlines within the same country."

We know that some ISPs use the term "unlimited downloads" according to their own definition of the meaning of "unlimited" and that a "free software download" may mean only that it's free to download (and usually, to try out) but not to keep on using.  In a similar vein, the term "landline" seems to have a particular meaning for Skype that they don't plainly share with the rest of us! Am I needlessly bashing my head against a brick wall here?

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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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