The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has sent out formal warnings to four telecommunications companies for not joining a mandatory scheme for small business and consumer dispute resolutions.
Operated by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), the scheme’s main focus is to field unresolved complaints about phone and internet services.
An investigation by ACMA found ATS Telecoms, Bottle Communications, Dataphone and Essential Online, trading as Essential Telco, were all noncompliant with the scheme, contravening the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 as a result.
In fact, the telcos ignored multiple requests from the TIO to join the scheme, according to Nerida O’Loughlin, ACMA chair. However, the four companies have since become scheme members.
If they had continued to not be members, the TIO would have been powerless to support consumers for issues relating to these telcos, as the Ombudsman is not allowed to handle complaints about telcos that aren’t members.
“It is disappointing that the ACMA had to get involved before they took their obligations seriously,” O’Loughlin said.
“By failing to sign up, these companies were denying their customers access to the important protections offered by the scheme.
“The ability to have complaints heard and resolved by an organisation that is independent of the telcos is a fundamental consumer protection.”
In FY19, the TIO fielded over 130,000 complaints, with 90 per cent resolved in the first instance.
The warnings to these telcos comes off the back of the first quarter of 2020's 13 per cent year-on-year increase in complaints to the TIO, to 32,411, with natural disasters indicated as a primary reason for the rise.
While not in this case, ACMA has been lenient lately on certain segments of Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, with the leniency window closing on 31 July.