Ombudsman sparks concern over broadband transfers

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is urging consumers to shop around for the best deals from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) following several dozen complaints about unauthorised and poor broadband transfer services.

An unauthorised transfer occurs when a customer is transferred from one phone company to another without giving informed consent. This can happen because of an administrative or systems error, or because of a deliberate act by the company.

A TIO spokesperson said customer transfer was a perennial cause of complaints from landline users - in relation to errors in transfer and unauthorised transfers. The introduction of a one-step customer transfer system between Internet service providers last year had seen the problem cross over to the broadband market.

"Although this complaint type is relatively new for ADSL customers, we believe more efficient processes are needed to prevent complaint numbers increasing," the spokesperson said.

Consumer complaints began to escalate in November and December 2003. By January this year, the TIO had received enough complaints for them to be aware of the problem and to make changes to the way it logs complaints.

But unauthorised transfer is not always illegal. The main remedy for an unrequested transfer, which can often be a mistake, is reversal.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has formulated a code of conduct (the Australian Communication Industry Forum’s Customer Transfer Code) which all Internet providers must acknowledge.

The TIO reports all code breaches to them and in light of the latest complaints is seeking greater adherence to the voluntary agreement.

However, the TIO has revealed several ADSL service providers we re unaware of their obligation to comply with the code.

IDG contacted several Internet providers to find out what their customer transfer policies are.

An OzEmail spokesman said: "OzEmail’s current processes do not allow for unauthorised customer transfers to occur and as such we are fully compliant with the ACIF Customer Transfer Code."

Optus was unable to provide a response before deadline.