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ACCAN slams telco opposition to ACMA regulation

Industry groups say mandatory, rather than voluntary codes, are the only way to improve customer service

Australian telecommunication providers will have to face up to mandatory regulation of their industry and the introduction of measures such as standard pricing for data costs, according to telco lobby group, The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

Ahead of a public discussion in Sydney of the Australian Communications & Media Authority’s (ACMA) Reconnecting the Customer draft report into practices by the telecommunications industry, ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said the industry was attempting to offer its voluntary Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code as a way to solve issues such as expensive bills and poor customer service.

“The current Code has categorically failed to address basic levels of customer service and complaint handling and, during the course of this inquiry, complaints to the Ombudsman have risen to record highs," she said in a statement. "It’s very hard to believe that a revised Code alone will produce a different result.” Corbin said ACCAN was “surprised”, given ACMA's threat to introduce regulation if the industry failed to deliver, that telcos had not offered anything substantive to address concerns.

“The industry has been told major change is needed, yet they come back and say it’s too expensive and too hard to fix the problems. It’s very disappointing,” she said.

Both ACCAN and ACMA say regulation is required in six key areas of the industry including:

  • Banning confusing terms such as cap, unlimited, free and no exclusions;
  • Standardised unit pricing for call and data costs;
  • Compulsory spend management tools so consumers are able to monitor their spending in real time and nominate their own maximum spending limits;
  • Transparent customer care reporting;
  • Improved advertising practices;
  • Better complaints handling processes.
ACCAN and the ACMA are hosting a Reconnecting the Customer summit in Sydney on 3 August, where ACCAN will present its submission, which include backing reports from ACCAN members such as the Consumer Action Law Centre, Council of the Aging Australia and the Central Land Council.

“We’ve been really pleased with the breadth of consumer engagement with this inquiry, with the ACMA holding public hearings right around Australia and encouraging individual consumers to make submissions,” Corbin said. “We encourage the regulator to maintain its commitment to these significant reforms and put consumers at the heart of telecommunications policy in this country.”

ACMA's final Reconnecting the Customer report will be released in August 2011.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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