Being so far from the “big smoke” can be a mixed blessing. Here in far north Queensland, we’re two days drive from our state capital, and much further still from Australia’s biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. We don’t have to endure the lengthy commute to work, the congestion, the high cost of living that goes with residing in the major cities.
But we do miss the range of choices on offer in the big smoke – especially in retail and entertainment. So in regional Australia, a lot of us have taken to computers and the online world in a big way. For us FNQ folk, shopping online isn’t just a case of looking for better prices. We may be hundreds, even thousands of kilometres from the nearest big stores, so the Net may be our only affordable access.
But in one area of online retail, Australians pay far more than people in other countries. We hand over up to 50 per cent more to buy music online, or computer hardware and software than in comparable Western nations.
It’s hard to find a sensible explanation for this but the Australian Parliament is going to try. Today it took the rare step of issuing summons to appear before a Parliamentary committee, requiring Apple, Microsoft and Adobe to attend on March 22 and explain.
The Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE has welcomed the news. It says Australians are paying on average 34% more for software, 52% more for iTunes music, 88% more for Wii games and 41% more for computer hardware than US consumers. Choice says it is hard to understand why prices are so much higher in Australia, and it will be very interesting to hear what the three companies tell the Parliamentary inquiry.
CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland speaks about what the inquiry might achieve, and why the prices are so high.
And there may be a way to get around this. CHOICE has a guide to navigating around what’s called geo-blocking. That’s the way Internet sites know which country you’re in and can restrict access or offer different information to you, depending on your location. This is a bit of a legal grey area, so check the note about the legal situation when you read the guide.