Legislation requiring telco providers to connect a service, repair a fault and attend appointments within a maximum timeframe could be scrapped under a new federal government proposal.
This comes as Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman statistics from last financial year show despite significant complaint reductions in most areas, complaints about fault repairs, timely connections for new services and keeping appointments all increased.
The changes are part of the Department of Communications deregulation bill which could also force vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers to negotiate their own contracts.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has called on the government to comprehensively review the changes and has also flagged concerns with proposed changes to privacy rules for the industry.
In its submission to the Department of Communications deregulation bill, ACCAN urged caution regarding proposed changes to the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) Standard.
The Standard, applicable to landline phones, currently requires providers to connect a service, repair a fault and attend appointments within a maximum timeframe.
ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said landline phones were still the number one communications service for a lot of consumers, especially the elderly, those in regional and remote areas, and people with disability.
"It is also vital for small business who can lose customers when their communications services are not in good working order," she said.
"The CSG is an important consumer protection and isn’t something we can simply do away with.Read more: Mobile coverage issues continue to decrease: TIO
The department’s current proposal would potentially see individual consumers go it alone in negotiating connection and repair timeframes as well as compensation with their telcos.
With a lack of bargaining power this could mean longer wait times and no compensation for delays.
Corbin said individual consumers, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged, were not well placed to negotiate their own contracts.
"We need, at the very least, some principles-based requirements that are applied to all telcos as well as a default safety net and a service standard for NBN Co,” she said.Read more: Telecommunications Ombudsman reorganises into single board
Corbin said the increase in complaints regarding landline connection and repair issues showed how important the landline phone remains to some Australian consumers.
ACCAN suggests that a lot of consumer frustration would be alleviated if consumers were able to track the progress of repairs or a new connection, and if telcos kept their promises for appointments or contacted you within 24 hours when the time was going to change.
Proposals discussed for reforming the telecommunications privacy regulation include exempting telcos with an annual turnover of less than $3m, exempting metadata, and decriminalising privacy offences by telco providers.
Corbin said, given the large amount of information held by the industry about its customers (personal details, content of communications, metadata such as internet browsing history), it was important to maintain existing levels of protection.Read more: Telco complaints hit five-year low