The Turnbull Government has released the terms of reference for a review into consumer safeguards in the telecommunications sector.
The review will be undertaken in three parts:
1. Ensuring that consumers have access to an effective complaints handling and redress scheme that provides transparency and holds telcos accountable for their performance.
2. Ensuring consumers have reliable telecommunications services including reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments; as well as potential compensation or penalties against providers.
3. Ensuring consumers are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly by their provider in areas such as customer service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management, and switching providers.
The first stage of the Review will examine the existing model for handling consumer complaints and will identify improvements to drive better outcomes for users.
“The TIO’s six-monthly update report released today shows that the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working. Customers are continuing to experience poor service, and are unable to get their service provider to satisfactorily resolve issues,” said Minister for Communications Senator Mitch Fifield.
“The fact that complaints to the TIO are still high across all types of fixed line and mobile services clearly shows that telcos need to lift their game. I have already directed the ACMA to put in place rules to support a better consumer experience during the NBN transition, including a complaints handling standard. It is now time to look at the effectiveness of consumer protections across the board.”
The Department of Communications and the Arts will shortly release a discussion paper on Redress and Complaints Handling for consultation with industry and the public.
Recommendations for redress and complaints handling will be provided to the Government in coming months. Recommendations for all three parts of the consumer safeguards framework will be provided to Government for consideration by the end of 2018.
The terms of reference are available at: www.communications.gov.au/consumer-safeguards-review
Background on existing consumer safeguards
The Government currently has a range of consumer safeguards in place, which were implemented when Telstra owned and operated the national fixed-line telecommunications network: https://www.communications.gov.au/what-we-do/phone/phone-services/consumer-protection
Safeguards in place today include:
- The Universal Service Obligation (not in scope of this review)
- The Customer Service Guarantee, which sets out connection and fault repair timeframes as well as compensation arrangements
- The Network Reliability Framework, which requires Telstra to address faults on its network on a regional basis and report on performance
- Priority Assistance, for anyone who depends on their phone because of a diagnosed life-threatening medical condition
- Voice-only migration to the NBN
Monitoring and reporting by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
These measures are complemented by the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code. This is a code of conduct for telco providers which provides safeguards in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management, changing suppliers, and complaint handling. It also sets out a framework of code compliance and monitoring by the ACMA.
In addition to this review, the Government has already announced a range of new protections specific to consumers migrating to the NBN. Under these rules, the ACMA will require retailers to:
- improve their complaints handling processes, including informing customers of the time it will take to fix a service and providing a key point of contact;
- perform a line test to confirm a working connection at installation, and undertake a line speed test at any time if requested by a customer;
- re-activate a service on a legacy network within a certain timeframe if an erroneous disconnection has occurred and the NBN cannot be connected;
- publicly release complaints statistics received by large service providers to help consumers differentiate between retailers based on the quality of their customer service;
- explain to consumers how different speed tiers can be applied in their home or business, as well as a ‘critical information summary’ for NBN services when signing consumers to a new contract.
In addition, the ACCC has commenced a broadband monitoring program to provide users with data on the real-world broadband speeds experienced from various retailers. The ACCC has released guidance on how RSPs should advertise broadband speeds so customers can make informed decisions, and has investigated cases of misleading broadband speed marketing and taken enforcement action against RSPs.