Monday, 26 March 2018 23:20

ACCAN calls for telcos to ‘step up’ on consumer complaints Featured

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The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network says telcos do well out of the telecommunications industry, and need to step up and resolve complaints about third-party charges themselves, not send their customers off to third-party providers for resolution.

The peak communications consumer group representing the interests of consumers in the telecommunications sector made the comments while welcoming the ACCC’s announcement on Monday that it has commenced proceedings against Telstra for misleading its customers about its Premium Direct Billing service.

The ACCC had commenced action against Telstra over the PDB service in the Federal Court under a delegation of power from ASIC.

As reported by iTWire, Telstra has now announced it has agreed with the ACCC to pay a penalty over the management of its Premium Direct Billing (PDB) service and has already exited the service.

The telco had been operating its PDB service since July 2013. The service allowed Telstra customers to purchase digital content from third-party developers that sell their content outside usual app marketplaces like Google Play or the App Store, with charges automatically applied to Telstra customers’ pre-paid or post-paid mobile accounts.

ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin says that consumers have been extremely frustrated by unexpected charges on their telco bills and by the difficulties they experience in resolving them.

And Corbin cites an ACCAN survey last year which found that 12% of mobile customers had experienced unexpected third-party charges on their mobile phone bills in the preceding six months.

“We’ve been calling for stronger consumer protections in this area for some time, including that all third party charging become opt-in, instead of the current opt-out arrangement.

“Many people don’t realise that their mobile phone account can effectively be used like a credit card to purchase third party content, like games credits,” Corbin cautions.

“We urge all Telstra mobile customers to take the ACCC’s advice – check your account, and if you’ve been billed for unauthorised third party charges, get in touch with Telstra to arrange a refund. Customers can call on 13 22 00.

“All consumers should ask their telco to bar access to third party billing if they do not want to accrue these charges inadvertently. This bar will block direct carrier billing, mobile premium services and 190 voice services, so you can’t get stung with these charges in future.”

As reported by iTWire, Telstra has agreed with the ACCC that until October 2017 it earned about $61.7m in net revenue from commissions on premium billing services charged to more than 2.7 million mobile numbers.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said Telstra has admitted that it misled customers by charging them for digital content, such as games and ringtones, which they unknowingly purchased.

"Many Telstra customers paid for content they did not want, did not use, and had difficulty unsubscribing from,” Sims said.

“Telstra knew that the Premium Direct Billing service it operated led to large numbers of its customers being billed for purchases made without their knowledge or consent. Despite this, Telstra continued to bill customers, making substantial revenue from the service at the expense of customers.

“When customers contacted Telstra to complain many were directed to third parties, even though Telstra knew that they had difficulty getting a refund from third party suppliers, or cancelling their subscription. Customers were often left frustrated and out of pocket as a result of Telstra’s conduct.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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