ACCAN: Telco consent practices are flawed

Report shows high volume of customer complaints indicating wide consumer dissatisfaction

There is no love for the telecommunications industry, with a report by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) showing major potholes in the sector’s customer consent practices generating wide consumer dissatisfaction.

The Informed Consent Research Report was based on complaints received by regulatory bodies including the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), Telecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO) and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE).

Service suppliers were also surveyed. Figures showed that 40,000 consent complains – such as contract disputes – are received each year but the paper suggested this number may be underrepresented since some data collection was limited because many organisations could not easily distinguish consent-based disputes.

Different demographics were also analysed in the report, with young people coming out on top as the group that submitted the most amount of complaints followed by culturally and linguistically diverse consumers, indigenous consumers and those with intellectual disabilities.

ACCAN CEO, Allan Asher, attributed the high volume of disputes to the shortcomings of service providers, which encompassed premium SMS companies. He said these suppliers do a poor job of informing customers on contractual consent obligations.

“Our research showed a lot of areas which people didn’t understand the nature of the transactions they were entering and suppliers aren’t rigorous in checking that up so people in this complicated digital world are not understanding their obligations when they consent to telco services,” Asher, said.

While he conceded that consumers are not without fault, Asher said there is a general inconsistency in the way companies choose to detail contract information, which can range from no providing information to dishing out numerous pages of legal documentation.

“What we need is for organisations to understand the nature of commitment they expect consumers to make and to give a good-faith summary, and get some objective consent that consumers agree on,” he said. “There are a lot of critical terms they want to follow up, such as pricing, so just the key features.”

ACCAN are speaking with the regulators and the DBCDE to come up with a list of best practice guides. The watchdog plans to meet with these key authorities to discuss a path to rectify the issue.

“Companies can fix these problems overnight but I suspect they will be resistant,” Asher said. “We will try and work with those that what to improve and fight those who don’t.”

The government has also been active in stamping out dodgy telco dealings which includes the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) approving Australia’s first training program and the introduction of the Do Not Call Register that reduced telemarketer related complaints by 60 per cent.

ACMA is touting a 60 per cent plunge in complaints regarding the Do Not Call Register as a result of improved telemarketers compliance.