Every mobile phone plan sold in Australia has a Critical Information Summary (CIS) that explains its key features. Here's how to use it to help you pick the right plan.
Unless you happen to be a lawyer, reading a mobile phone contract is rather like picking up the complete works of Shakespeare that have been translated into Russian, then Spanish, then back to English by a poorly coded machine translator. They're often difficult to parse documents that seem like they're designed to baffle -- or at least that used to be the case.
As of March 2013, telecommunications providers in Australia are required by law to provide a Critical Information Summary (CIS) that breaks down the core details of a plan in an easy to understand manner. In order to keep things succinct and easy to understand, a CIS should be no longer than two pages.
Where can I find the CIS?
Providers are obliged to provide a link to the CIS for each plan (or a single CIS if it covers multiple plan costs) on their websites. These are typically found with the details for each plan, although some telcos do lump all their CIS links on a single page instead. If the telco in question has a physical store presence they should also be able to provide you with a printed copy in-store.
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What information must it include?
A CIS must disclose the cost of calls under the specified plan. This should include minimum monthly costs and the inclusions of the plan.
A CIS should indicate the cost of a two minute call to a standard Australian number, including flagfall, so you can evaluate the value of any included calling provisions.
A CIS has to disclose the cost of using SMS services within the plan structure, including the cost of a typical SMS to an Australian number.
Data costs at a per-MB level must be disclosed in the CIS, as well as any data inclusions and the rate at which data usage is counted.
If you opt to conclude the contract early, the provider is obliged to lay out in clear terms the costs that you'll incur if doing so.
International Cost Details
If roaming services are supported by your carrier, the details of any charges that you're likely to incur should be shown, although this doesn't have to be at length and may link to the carrier's site for further detail.
The CIS should provide contact details for both the telco's complaint resolution centre and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
What information can carriers leave out?
The CIS doesn't have to include other carrier details such as coverage maps (which should be easily located on the carrier website regardless), expected connection speeds, full details of international call, text or data costs, or any specific details relating to a handset that may be associated with a contract.