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Tuesday, 26 July 2011 08:32

Industry insists: consumer code will address ACMA's issues

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The telecomms industry has been almost unanimous in its responses to the ACMA's draft report of its 'Reconnecting the Customer' enquiry in claiming that a revised Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code will address the ACMA's concerns. ACCAN does not agree.

The ACMA released the draft report of its year long enquiry on 1 June and has just released submissions to that report. The draft identified six major issues that had to be resolved: improved advertising practices; improved product disclosure information; the introduction of transparent customer care performance reporting; the provision of expenditure management tools for consumers to manage their costs; the adoption of best practice internal complaints-handling that meets the Australian Standard for Complaints-handling (AS ISO 100002-2006); changes to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme - its governance and the prosecution of best practice standards and systemic issue reporting.

ACMA's preference is more regulation
At the launch of the enquiry and on several occasions during it, ACMA chairman Chris Chapman had hinted strongly that further regulation would be the outcome, and he re-iterated this on the release of the draft report, saying "The industry response [to the draft report] will certainly give an early indication of its readiness to effect the clearly needed step change - all in the interest of yielding materially improved consumer outcomes," but adding: "Further, more direct intervention by imposing industry standards and service provider determinations has been foreshadowed by the ACMA as the preferred approach for several of the proposals."

Despite this the industry is still pushing hard for the new TCP code to be the panacea for the problems identified in the report. Communications Alliance, in its submission, contended that the TCP code, when finalised, would address all the concerns raised by the ACMA in its draft report.

It noted that the ACMA's draft report was based on the current TCP code, not the draft of the new code that was supplied to ACMA on 31 March. "Consequently, this submission will indicate where industry believes that the revised code already fully or in part meets the ACMA recommendations," it said.

 

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"Industry anticipates undertaking detailed discussion with the ACMA concerning its response to the RTC Draft Report, before incorporating further material into the revised draft TCP Code and releasing the draft Code for public comment," Comms Alliance said. "If other initiatives outside the Code are needed to meet the full range of objectives, industry will consider these in consultation with the ACMA."

Telstra echoed this view, saying: "We believe the issues raised by the ACMA in its Interim Report [that were] not addressed in the current draft of the new TCP Code can be readily addressed in a further draft of the Code. Telstra is committed to ensuring the TCP Code addresses these areas of concern to improve consumer protections."

Optus seemed not to have heard Chapman's message that direct intervention was its "preferred approach" to several of the problems identified in the draft report. Optus said in its submission: "We believe that the matters raised in the ACMA's draft report are best managed via the current review of the TCP Code, and are pleased that the ACMA has proposed this as the first course of action."

Industry 'in denial' says ACCAN

ACCAN's response to these and other similar submissions was to accuse the industry of being "In a state of denial about the threat of regulation if it fails to fix its customer service and complaint handling problems." '¨

ACCAN said: "The industry body, Communications Alliance, has pointed to the voluntary Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code as a way to fix all the industry's problems, a co-regulatory approach ACCAN says cannot possibly provide the fixes the ACMA has demanded surrounding issues such as advertising, customer-nominated spend limits and clear unit pricing information."

ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin, said: "We're quite surprised, given the threat made by the regulator to regulate if the industry failed to deliver on certain non-negotiables, that the industry hasn't offered up anything substantive to address the ACMA's concerns."

She dismissed the revisions to the TCP code as "tinkering", saying: "The current TCP Code has categorically failed to address basic levels of customer service and complaint handling, and indeed during the course of this inquiry, complaints to the Ombudsman have risen to record highs. It's very hard to believe that a revised Code alone will produce a different result."

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Comms Alliance foreshows  draft TCP Code
Meanwhile with the draft of the new TCP code still not available the industry has little to offer the public to back up its claims that the new code will address all the ACMA's concerns and it has sought to fill the gap by issuing a statement boasting of the "comprehensive program of reforms to customer service and complaint handling practices designed to dramatically improve the service experience of Australian communications consumers," that new code is supposed to deliver.

Comms Alliance CEO, John Stanton "emphasised the importance of the stronger approach taken in the new Code to ensure industry-wide compliance with its provisions," according to Comms Alliance's announcement.

Compliance framework the Achilles heel
"The biggest single weakness in the existing TCP Code is the absence of an effective framework to ensure consistent compliance performance across the breadth of the industry, even though many service providers have striven to ensure they do meet the Code provisions," Stanton said.

"This lack of consistency has undoubtedly contributed to some of the difficulties in customer service and complaint handling that led to the RTC inquiry being established.

"We are very confident that the new Code, with its strengthened and improved rules across all key areas of industry activity, combined with widespread compliance, will contribute to a material improvement in the service experience of telecommunications consumers - a development that will also benefit the industry itself."

Comms Alliance said the draft code would be released "soon" for public comment. The ACMA, however has indicated the final report of the RTC enquiry will be released in August. The TCP code is not expected to be finalised by this time.

 

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