The Mobile Matters report by project coordinator Leo Fieldgrass details the findings from a year-long youth participatory action research and advocacy program by the Brotherhood of St Laurence involving over 100 Melbourne VCAL students.
The student researchers documented the challenges faced by them and their peers and made recommendations to industry for changes to better support young consumers.
Students from the Youth Advocates Project have a clear message for telcos and regulators: "We want you to understand what it's like to be a young mobile consumer: we don't just use mobiles for mucking about. We use them for jobs and shifts, school, parents, and emergencies".
Youth and family debt related to mobile phone use has been a recognised problem in Australia for more than a decade. The Youth Advocates program aimed to empower young people to understand their rights and responsibilities as consumers, while fostering peer-research and self-advocacy skills.
The project is an important contribution to education practice that engages and empowers young people in meaningful participatory research and peer advocacy, with VCAL teachers noting the transformational change in students participating in the program. The report includes an overview of telecommunications issues for young people in Australia and useful resources for teachers.
The findings culminated in a set of recommendations calling for changes such as more straightforward product offerings and clearer language; removal of unfair charges for voicemail, late fees when there’s been no bill reminder, and charges for calling ‘free call’ (1800) or ‘local rate’ (13/1300) numbers; shorter and more appropriate contracts for young people; and targeted legislation to protect young consumers and keep telcos to their word. Students presented their findings at the "Call For Change" event held at Melbourne's Town Hall in August 2011, which was attended by key industry figures.
Funded by the ACCAN Grants Scheme, the project was facilitated by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, in partnership with the VCAL programs, in four secondary schools in Victoria's Frankston Mornington Peninsula area.