Addressing the Australian Communications Consumers' Action Network annual conference in Sydney today, Chapman said the ACMA intended to be very proactive to ensure compliance with the new code - released in July and he detailed a timetable of progressively more aggressive actions by the ACMA.
"The ACMA will be taking a much tougher and more directive stance - turning up the heat. You will see more investigations, directions and court cases. So, if you're an industry player, for heaven's sake wise up," he said. "The ACMA is prepared for the road ahead and recent internal changes means that our ability to enforce compliance is strong. Our Consumer Interests Section is being beefed-up with increased staff and is preparing for a raft of investigations.
He said that for the first thee months the ACMA would focus on educating service providers as to their obligations under the code, but would not hesitate to take enforcement action "where there is flagrant or substantial non-compliance by a supplier." He added that these interventions would be targeted to "where compliance will generate the greatest consumer benefit."
He also promised that by June 2013 100 service providers would be audited for their compliance to "key code rules", saying that the initial targets, currently being audited, were "the top 40 providers who are not Communications Alliance members."
He listed the ACMA's priorities in the audits as being complaints handling, followed by advertising and, in 2013, the rollout of the critical information summaries - the two page document that service providers are required to make available with each service detailing all the key aspects of that service.
On advertising, Chapman said: "Our priority will be advertisements that use misleading or confusing language. After that, we will target those that do not contain standard charge information for included value plans. This will be an important and very visible early test of the industry's transformation."
Chapman was speaking just after communications minister Stephen Conroy had announced the granting of significant new powers to the ACMA. It will in future be able to set and impose - after consultation with industry - new rules applicable to all service providers if it believes the new code is not producing the desired outcomes.
Chapman welcomed the move, saying, "This...new power will allow earlier regulatory intervention concerning any problem areas identified by the Reconnecting the Customer inquiry and not being delivered under the new code, or new emerging problem areas...We certainly found that the ability to make service provider rules in the particular area of premium messaging services (where consumer complaints that had increased significantly from 2005 onwards) were absolutely invaluable in buttressing industry code-making - complaints in that domain have dropped dramatically."
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