The new Code – introduced because of the industry’s poor customer service in dealing with consumer complaints and other issues - imposes tough conditions on telcos and all carriage service providers - to comply, with possible escalation all the way to the Federal Court which can potentially impose civil penalties of up to $250,000 for breaches of the code.
The Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code - developed by the Communications Alliance (CA) and registered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – came into effect on Saturday, designed to deliver improved regulations governing the Australian telecommunications industry, and enhanced protections to consumers in the areas of complaint handling, financial hardship, advertising, billing, as well as helpful information about international roaming.
One major telco – Optus – jumped the gun late last week, just before the protection code came into being, and launched its new usage alert service which it says gives its customers greater transparency in managing spending on their mobile accounts. The new Optus service sends text alerts to Optus’ customers on most post-paid mobile plans when they reach 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of their voice, text and data allowance.
Chapman again put the industry on notice, saying that ACMA would take a “far more robust approach” to ensure the industry’s compliance with the new Code and had “resourced up in this space.”
“We will conduct more audits and investigations dealing with key areas of consumer detriment and expect substantial changes in industry practices.”
The ACMA boss said the code applied to all carriage service providers, whether they offered fixed, mobile or internet services, including “network operators and resellers, providers of Voice over Internet Protocol services, phone card services and National Broadband Network retail services.
“I am encouraged by how CA is taking a leading role to ramp up industry knowledge of the code by establishing compliance courses and would highly recommend that all the telcos participate.”
For consumers who consider that their service provider is not complying with the code, Chapman says they “may make a complaint to the provider in the first instance and if they are not satisfied with the resolution, they should contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.”
And, if telecommunications service providers do not comply with the code, Chapman said they faced a direction to comply from the ACMA, “while further breaches could lead to Federal Court action where civil penalties of up to $250,000 are possible.”
The implementation of the code follows the ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry which examined the root causes of the industry’s poor customer service and complaints-handling performance and which mandated the range of improvements required before the TCP code would be registered.