Thursday, 03 December 2015 21:50

TCP code changes given only qualified support from consumer advocacy groups Featured

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The code that provides protection to consumers buying and using telecommunications services has been revised and simplified to give greater flexibility to providers in keeping consumers informed about those services, but falls short of what some industry groups wanted.

While industry has generally welcomed the changes to the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP) by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), one group - the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) – is not entirely happy with the changes and has put industry on notice that it will be closely watching the impact of revisions made to the code.

Another industry group – the Communications Alliance - welcomed revision of the new TCP but doesn’t think the changes go far enough.

The revised TCP Code - registered with the ACMA after an extensive review of customer information obligations by industry and other stakeholders in 2014 - replaces the existing code and came into effect on Thursday.

The ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said the updated TCP Code reinforces the authority’s commitment to working with key stakeholders to ensure regulation remains relevant and effective, “while giving industry more flexibility in how it provides the necessary information to consumers (its customers).”

‘Importantly the changes maintain the consumer safeguards put in place in 2012 following the ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer (RTC) public inquiry.

‘The retention of key consumer safeguards was essential. The previous TCP Code has driven a 36% fall in order the last three years, while we recently released economic analysis highlighting that the RTC reforms have generated estimated savings for consumers of $545 million per year,” Chapman said.

While acknowledging that the code provides significant consumer protections, the ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin warned industry not to drop its game, saying that the organisation would be keeping a close eye on how the industry performs under the revised Code.

“We want to see the debate shift from just being about deregulation to the more nuanced ‘better regulation.’ If we don’t then consumers will begin to suffer due to reductions in community safeguards,” Corbin cautioned.

“In a backward step, changes introduced today mean telcos will no longer be obliged to publish important information on their websites, such as coverage maps, international roaming information and contact details for financial hardship staff.

“It’s now up to the telco how they provide this information, and we are concerned that this will particularly harm consumers who face accessibility barriers, and are reliant on web-based information. It may affect consumers’ ability to make informed purchasing decisions.”

Corbin said that the consumer benefit of providing clear information was the number one conclusion of the ACMA’s ‘Reconnecting the Customer Inquiry' in 2011 which led to the current Code. “Having clear information online, on a website that is accessible, allows consumer to take the time to understand information free from a pressured sales pitch,” Corbin said.

“While consumer protections under the Australian Consumer Law and Disability Discrimination Act still apply, ACCAN maintains that the Code has been an effective tool in driving good industry practice.

“The previous version of the Code only finished being rolled out in 2014. Since the Code was introduced over three years ago, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints have fallen by 36% to the lowest point in seven years,” added Ms Corbin.

“With complaint numbers continuing to drop, clearly it’s not the right time to be reducing the obligations to provide clear accessible information.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a 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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