New rules governing how telecommunications retail service providers (RSPs) deal with their customers and provide services could come into play as a result of new recommendations aimed at bringing the country’s consumer safeguards up to date.
The Consumer Safeguards Review Part B report, released on 17 December, contains 14 recommendations intended to help implement a framework to support the reliability of modern communication services in a post-National Broadband Network (NBN) setting.
For telco RSPs, the report recommended that, as part of overall sales and marketing processes, retailers should have to clearly state remedies they will deliver if retail service level commitments are not met around areas such as credits or rebates, satisfaction guarantees and the availability of alternative or backup services.
It also recommended that service commitments should be appropriately tailored and explained where services are being offered to small business customers, such as clearly identifying any enhanced service levels available.
Other recommendations relating to retail services included a call for the government to put in place arrangements to provide assurances that timeframes and associated remedies offered by retailers are reasonable and proportionate.
Additionally, the report stated that the government should work with regulators and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on appropriate arrangements to discourage, identify and respond to any cases where retailers either fail to develop or deliver on promised commitments.
It also called for limited exemptions for the achievement of service commitments, such as if there is a network based exemption in place or where a provider can demonstrate a consumer did not provide reasonable information or assistance to support a resolution, or if there are property access or other legal impediments.
For wholesalers, the recommendations included a call for mandatory wholesale connection, fault repair and appointment keeping rules and associated benchmarks to be introduced during 2020.
The report also recommended that wholesale connection rules and benchmarks should be set in a way that accommodates the high volume of connections which will occur up until early 2022 as the NBN migration process concludes.
At the same time, it recommended that wholesale timeframes should be set to recognise issues of geographic remoteness and provide for reasonable industry travel time.
Additionally, the report suggested that wholesale providers should be able to claim exemptions from wholesale timeframes and benchmarks based on meeting clearly defined criteria. As such, the report also recommended that, building on the wholesale level rules, arrangements should be put in place to require and then promote transparency around the service commitments of individual retailers.
This would include, at a minimum, a requirement to advise consumers and small businesses of timeframes for connections and repairs, and associated remedies, while allowing industry to make these points of competitive distinction, the report said.
The Part B report is the second stage of the Government’s three-part Consumer Safeguards Review which is preparing the telecommunications industry for a post-2020 operating environment when the NBN is fully rolled out.
The federal government kicked off the first part of its review into consumer safeguards in the country’s telecommunications sector last year, releasing its terms of reference for the review in April 2018.
Australia’s Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said that the existing consumer safeguards were designed for voice services delivered over the copper telephone network.
“The consumer safeguards we have in place today have been in place for more than 20 years and are highly prescriptive,” Fletcher said. “As Australia’s telecommunications environment continues to change, and with the National Broadband Network rollout finishing next year, now is the right time to modernise the consumer protection framework.
“The report’s recommendations are designed to support Australians to get and stay connected to fixed voice and broadband services. I have asked my Department to work closely with industry, consumer groups and regulators to progress this work,” he added.
According to Fletcher, the final stage of the Consumer Safeguards Review will consider choice and fairness in the retail relationship between the customer and their provider.
The government will further consult with industry on the final stage of the Review in early 2020.