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Australian telecommunications consumers will receive better information about telecommunications products and services.

The new Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code comes into effect on 1 March 2013. The code requires all Australian service providers to give consumers a standardised format “Critical Information Summary” (CIS) outlining everything needed to make an informed purchase, and/or to readily compare offers from different providers.

New billing requirements also take effect, meaning that all telecommunications bills for included-value products must now list the total billed amount for each of the two previous billing periods, making it easier for consumers to track their spending.

Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, said the new requirements were part of the progressive implementation of upgraded consumer protections following the registration of the new TCP Code by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in 2012.

“Many service providers have taken the initiative to introduce Critical Information Summaries ahead of the Code schedule. This improved information flow is helping customers better understand what they are buying and is contributing to the strong recent falls in complaints to the industry Ombudsman,” Stanton said.

The TCP Code includes requirements in a wide range of customer facing areas including advertising, customer information, billing, credit management and complaint handling. The CIS guidelines specify a plain language document no longer than two pages, in which service providers must provide, for each of their current offers, details including:

  • a clear description of the telecommunications service to be provided under the offer
  • any minimum term applying to the product set out in the offer
  • inclusions, exclusions and any important conditions, limitations, restrictions or qualifications
  • the minimum and maximum monthly charge payable under the offer (where calculable)
  • the maximum charge payable for early termination of the offer
  • unit pricing information for included value mobile plans, including the cost of making a 2 minute Standard National Mobile Call, the cost of sending a Standard National Mobile SMS and the cost of using one megabyte of data within Australia
  • whether the offer depends on a bundling arrangement with other telecommunications services
  • whether any telecommunications equipment forms part of the offer
  • for an included value plan, an estimate of the maximum number of 2 minute standard national mobile calls that can be made within the included-value allowance
  • a link to the area on the service provider’s website where the customer can obtain call and data usage information or instructions on where the customer can obtain call and data usage information
  • warnings about domestic and international roaming costs
  • customer service contact details, information about how to access the Service Provider’s internal dispute resolution processes and contact details for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

Service providers are required to make the CIS readily accessible on their website and to make the CIS available free of charge at their retail stores, where applicable.

Providing the CIS to customers and meeting the new billing requirements form part of the overall compliance requirements for all Australian service providers.

On 1 April this year all providers need to attest to Communications Compliance (a new, independent code monitoring body), that they are compliant with the TCP Code, or submit an action plan detailing how they will become compliant.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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