Rules looking at the level of choice and fairness consumers have when dealing with telecommunication companies are up for consideration with the release of a new set of recommendations by the federal government
The Consumer Safeguards Review—Part C—Choice and Fairness: Consultation paper report, released on 27 July, presents four proposals to improve choice and fairness in the consumer-telco relationship.
It also sets out to prepare the telco industry for an operating environment with coverage of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, said the review was overdue, as existing safeguards focus on voice services through a copper telephone network.
“Today we have a vastly different telco landscape with the NBN available to 99 per cent of homes and businesses in Australia,” Fletcher said.
“For example, 51 per cent of Australian adults were mobile-only for voice calls as at June 2019, up from 27 per cent in 2014[, and] 79 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds rely on mobiles for all voice calls.
“Australians are using technology in different ways, so we need to make sure the appropriate and necessary regulations are in place. We will also consider areas that consumer experience tells us could work better, including sales, customer service and financial hardship.”
The discussion paper for part C presents four proposals for reform, which are:
Telco-specific consumer protection rules should focus on essential matters between consumers and their communications provider;
The rule-making process should be reformed to improve its effectiveness;
Essential telco-specific consumer protection rules should be mandatory and enforceable by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA); and
Legacy obligations which are losing relevance should be removed or adjusted with the phase out of Telstra’s legacy copper network.
Within the discussion paper, granting more powers to government bodies is highlighted in particular, which includes either giving ACMA reserve powers to make consumer protection rules or giving the Minister or ACMA the ability to make rules in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Currently, most rules are outlined in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code. Making additions to the code is a slow process, the report claims, and is more suited to managing existing problems than emerging problems.
Also touched upon is considering whether if there is a need for continuing the provision of legacy services to be mandated by regulation, like pre-selection – having different providers for different kinds of call types – unlimited local calls, directory assistance services, operator services, itemised billing and powers for regulating Telstra’s retail prices.
Additionally, the discussion paper mulls over the concept of Telstra providing low income measures, claiming they are “of declining relevance”, but notes affordability issues are separate to the consumer safeguards review.
Industry body Communications Alliance claimed in a statement that it looks forward to engaging with the government on the discussion paper, with CEO John Stanton adding the review “provides an opportunity to modernise and streamline the framework, to benefit consumers, industry and the broader economy”.
“In the past decade, we have seen the real cost of telecommunications for consumers decrease significantly, alongside more flexible service plans and powerful, next-generation devices,” he said.
“The co-regulatory system in the Australian communications sector – in which government can set objectives, industry and consumer experts can design the detail and regulators can scrutinise the outputs and enforce compliance - has served the nation well.
“We believe that both co-regulation and formal government regulation have their place in a modern consumer safeguards framework – and that improvements can be made to the ways in which both forms of regulation are executed in Australia.”
Interested stakeholders are able to submit their responses for consultation from now until 5PM on 24 August via the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’ website, by email email or by postal mail.
The review for part C is the third consultation for the review, which has spanned over two years.
The consultation for part A , which focused on complaints handling, occurred in July 2018, and part B’s consultation, looking at the reliability of modern communication services, happened over a year later in December 2019.