The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has formally warned Telstra for breaching the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code 2007 (TCP Code).
ACMA says that between 2006 and 2012 Telstra incorrectly billed 260,165 international data roaming customers multiple flag fall fees for single data sessions. The total amount overcharged was around $30 million an average of $115 a customer, over a six year period. Telstra says most customers were overcharged small amounts, but if the average was that high many would have been charged much more.
The bills reflected incorrect information Telstra received from international carriers and its contracted data clearing house. But ACMA says that does not absolve Telstra from blame.
A formal warning carries no great weight, but does indicate that behaviour is being monitored. There have been eight formal warnings since the TCP was restructured a year ago.
The code requires providers to bill customers accurately, but allows for some exceptions, such as where the inaccuracy is caused by reliance on information provided by contractors. Whether Telstra could rely on this exception in this case was a key issue for this investigation. ACMA says its investigation found that Telstra could rely on this exception only until early 2009, which was when Telstra first received a complaint from a consumer who had been incorrectly billed for multiple overseas data sessions.
ACMA found that billing inaccuracies after that complaint was received were caused by Telstra’s failure to investigate and identify the problems with the information being provided by its contractor.
“Accurate billing is of the utmost importance,” said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. “Our investigation makes it very clear that all telcos need to listen to their customers who report billing problems and be vigilant about any potential issues with the information provided to them by third parties.”
Once the information problem was discovered, ACMA says Telstra promptly identified all customers who were incorrectly charged for international data roaming and is systematically providing rebates – in some cases years later. Telstra has also permanently ceased charging a flag fall fee for international roaming data services.
There are some mitigating circumstances, said Chapman, which lead to Telstra being warned rather than stronger action being taken. “We took into account the facts that Telstra was not the original cause of the problem. It was also the first time a billing issue of this nature had been investigated under the TCP Code, and Telstra itself reported the matter.
“Telstra appears to be otherwise currently compliant with the relevant parts of the TCP Code 2012 and importantly, it proactively implemented a comprehensive program of compensation that mitigated the harm for affected customers.”