The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will soon register the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code, outlining how telecommunications providers should engage with their customers.
It was developed by the Communications Alliance (CA), which formed an independently chaired steering group comprising industry and consumer representatives, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE).
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) represented their consumer interests.
Changes to the code include:
- The majority of telco advertisements having to include the cost of a two-minute national call, the cost of a standard SMS and the cost for 1MB of data
- Telcos required to offer a “Critical Information Summary” (CIS) that includes all pricing information, inclusions and minimum spend information for each product in a standard form.
- Customers receiving warnings when they have used 50 per cent, 85 per cent and all of their monthly allowance for phone and data.
ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman, said the changes will give rise to a much needed, much improved, customer experience.
“What industry players will be delivering to their customers is access to the information, tools and remedies to equip them to demand and drive better service. Telco companies, having established the clearest possible roadmap of what they need to deliver, will now have to perform,” he said.
ACMA’s inquiry estimated the annual recurring costs associated with the industry’s unsatisfactory performance under the previous code included $1.5 billion associated with consumers choosing the wrong plan, $108 million for the costs of telephone complaints and $113 million for the costs of writing off bad debts.
Chapman expects the new code to significantly reduce the costs.
ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said the rules are fairer than they have ever been before.
“We’re hopeful that its adoption will result in clearer advertising, easier comparison of products, better information about contracts and better tools to help consumers avoid bill shock,” Corbin claimed.
However, ACCAN is concerned customer service and complaint handling problems will continue unless ACMA is given greater powers of enforcement.
Currently, if ACMA finds a provider has breached the TCP code, it can issue a direction to comply but cannot directly fine or otherwise penalise the provider.
“The ACCC, for example, has much stronger powers and its issuing of fines has sent a strong message to the telecommunications industry that its advertising cannot be misleading,” Corbin said.
CA CEO, John Stanton, said the new TCP code is the most comprehensive upgrade of consumer protections ever achieved in the telco sector.
The organisation also recently created a new company, Communications Compliance, to foster and monitor industry-wide compliance with the TCP code.
“This code heralds a sea-change in the telco consumer experience in Australia and Communications Compliance fills a vital gap in the co-regulatory framework,” Stanton said.
Former director of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), former chief executive of the committee for Sydney and Telstra executive, Deirdre Mason, has been hired as the independent chair of Communications Compliance.
Mason is one of three directors appointed to Communications Compliance by the board of CA.
Communications Alliance chair and former federal minister for communications, Michael Lee, will also serve on the Communications Compliance board and it is calling for expressions of interest from consumer representatives to occupy the third non-executive director position on its board.
Till the role is filled, Margaret Fleming will serve on the board in a transitional role.
It is also searching for an executive director to lead the day-to-day operations of the new company.
The ACCAN will also be playing an active role in ensuring the industry adopts the new rules by checking advertising, contract, critical information summaries and referring possible breaches to the ACMA or ACCC where appropriate.
It claimed that it will be creating a consumer guide to the TCP code, highlighting the key information from it and conducting two national telecommunications consumer surveys that will indicate how customers are faring in relation to customer service, complaint handling and spend management.
“The ACMA will very closely monitor its progress and will not hesitate to communicate to industry the need for further change, if that need arises. Compliance with the code is no longer an option. The next step in this whole process is the longer term industry response,” Chapman said.
The ACMA’s registration of the code will take effect from September 1.