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Wednesday, 07 September 2011 20:30

Comms Alliance to set up independent telco 'policeman'

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Communications Alliance has pre-empted release by the ACMA of the final version of its 'Reconnecting the Customer' enquiry - scheduled for 9 September - by revealing some provisions of its yet-to-be released Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP), including a proposed independent compliance monitoring body.

 

Ever since he announced the enquiry over a year ago ACMA chairman, Chris Chapman, has repeatedly flagged that the result will be tighter regulation,  a move that Comms Alliance has repeatedly opposed.

A key feature of the new TCP code - "A new independent body, with consumer representation...to monitor service providers' compliance with the Code, work with providers on any weaknesses and, where necessary, refer problems to the ACMA for potential enforcement action" - appears to be a last ditch attempt by the industry to avoid the imposition of additional regulation.

However with the final report of the ACMA enquiry due out on Friday, and no firm date for release of the draft TCP code, it may prove to be a case of too little, too late.

In a statement announcing the new body and other features of the code, Comms Alliance said: "The telecommunications industry is planning to implement a 'unit-pricing' scheme to help consumers easily compare pricing before purchasing mobile phone plans'¦It is among a raft of improvements to the Code that will strengthen consumer protections, improve the information provided to consumers and take positive action to prevent so-called 'bill shock'."

Speaking at the ACCAN Conference in Sydney yesterday, Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, said the proposed Code provision would see 'unit pricing for standard national calls, SMS and data usage spelled out in large print advertisements for post-paid mobile phone plans with included-value, the so-called 'cap' plans).

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"The 'unit pricing' will be standardised to help consumers easily compare different offerings and will also be included in a new summary of offer document that consumers will receive before they make a purchase, and on service provider web-sites," Stanton said.

According to Comms Alliance, "Also planned are new and tighter deadlines on supplier investigation and resolution of customer complaints, and a stronger system of spend management tools to help consumers avoid bill-shock. This will include consumers receiving notifications at specific usage or expenditure points, so they can better ensure that they don't incur any additional charges."

Stanton added: "Many service providers in Australia already offer an extensive array of spend management tools, but the planned Code improvements are designed to ensure that tools are available to all consumers."

He said the revised TCP Code still needed to go through several steps, including further consideration by the relevant steering group and ACMA, then a public comment period, before it could be finalised.

Communications Alliance's announcement then provided a long list of "The many additional improvements in the draft TCP Code," saying: "Industry will also take account of the imminent report of the ACMA's Re-Connecting the Customer Inquiry, and is pressing to get the new Code in place as soon as possible."


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