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Tuesday, 25 October 2011 13:00

New code promises better protection for telecoms consumers


Communications Alliance has released a draft of a new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code saying it will deliver a host of stronger consumer protections including improved customer service, better information about products and services and improved responses to customer complaints.

The new code comes against the background of the ACMA's year long 'Reconnecting the Customer' enquiry into telecoms customer service, which wound up last month giving the industry five months to deliver the new code with provisions that addressed the ACMA's concerns, or face the immediate imposition of ACMA developed standards.

The Reconnecting the Customer report was very specific on what provisions the ACMA - which had already seen early versions of the new code - wanted to see in the public draft and the final version.

A key feature of the draft code is the proposed creation of a new independent watchdog, Communications Compliance, to monitor service providers' compliance with the provisions of the new code.

The Australian Communications Consumers Action Network (ACCAN) sees enforcing compliance as the main issue, and is not convinced that Communications Compliance will be an adequate solution, despite having been intimately involved in the revision of the code.

 "With a self-regulatory Code governing an industry as vital as telecommunications, the biggest issue is making sure that providers abide by the rules," ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin said. "We're not convinced that this [Communications Compliance] is best practice and will be making further comment about that in our submission."

Corbin was a member of the Code review's steering committee and said that consumer representatives had been working alongside industry for the past 15 months to try to improve the self-regulatory Code.

"While the draft revised TCP Code falls short of some of the main consumer protections advocates wanted, there are some improvements around notifications for customers and a requirement for telecommunications providers to resolve complaints more quickly," she said.

According to Communications Alliance, the other main features of the new code are:
- Unit Pricing - three unit prices (for calls, text message and data use) to be included in all large print advertisements for post-paid, included value mobile plans, to help consumers compare different plans before they buy;
- Tighter deadlines for phone companies to acknowledge and resolve customer complaints;
- Stronger restrictions on advertising content to ensure ads are clear and do not mislead customers;
- Better pre-sales information, to ensure consumers have all the necessary information about the products and can easily compare offers from different providers;
- Spend management tools, including notifications to tell customers where they stand in comparison to any data usage limits each month;
- Stronger protection for customers concerning credit and debt management;
- New obligations on suppliers in relation to vulnerable customers and meeting customers' needs.

The draft code is open for public comment until 25 November. It is accompanied by an explanatory statement.

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