13 Years of ACMA Telecommunications Enforcement

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Below is the Centre for Media Transition’s website post on The Enforcement of Telecommunications Consumer Protections and the accompanying media release on the report by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). The website posts were released on 3/04/2024 and are available here (https://www.uts.edu.au/research/centre-media-transition/projects-and-research/enforcement-telecommunications-consumer-protections) and here (https://accan.org.au/media-centre/media-releases/2288-uts-enforcement-report).

As noted by both the report and ACCAN, the data on the ACMA’s enforcement activities is drawn only from the publicly available data. For comparisons to other Australian regulators, such as the Australian Energy Regulator whose 2022-2023 Annual Report highlights are available here (https://www.aer.gov.au/news/articles/news-releases/annual-compliance-and-enforcement-report-highlights-energy-consumer-protections), the Australian Government’s Transparency Portal (https://www.transparency.gov.au/) is a free resource for publicly available information.

The Enforcement of Telecommunications Consumer Protections

This report  presents a preliminary account of enforcement action taken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) between 1 January 2010 and 30 June 2023 in relation to four sources of consumer protection rules arising out of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth): industry codes registered under Part 6 of that Act, industry standards determined under ss 123, 124, 125 and 125AA, select service provider rules, and select carrier licence conditions. 

Overall, we found 487 investigations into breaches of our select consumer protection rules that the ACMA had made public. There were 309 providers that had enforcement action taken against them, and in total 502 enforcement actions pursued by the ACMA. 

The range of enforcement actions was as follows: 

  • 296 formal warnings 
  • 119 directions to comply
  • 41 remedial directions
  • 24 infringement notices with a total value of $6,143,160
  • 17 enforceable undertakings 
  • 3 civil penalty orders obtained from the Federal Court totalling $1,077,625
  • 1 injunction obtained from the Federal Court
  • 1 deed of agreement. 

The provisions that attracted the highest number of enforcement actions were those relating to:

  • the obligations to provide Communications Compliance with compliance attestation documentation (240 actions) 
  • the provision of Integrated Public Number Database-related information (IPND) (73 actions) 
  • obligations relating to complaint handling (49 actions)
  • requirements concerning advertising or provision of information to customers (35 actions)
  • the requirements to join and comply with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme (28 actions). 

Some limitations in the scope of the report and the available data should be noted. Information on compliance investigations conducted by the ACMA – as distinct from specific enforcement actions – is limited to those matters where the ACMA publicly reported a breach of one of the consumer protections rules, as the ACMA does not generally publish data on investigations where there is no breach finding. Further the ACMA may consider it is not in the public interest to publicly release information about a beach even where enforcement action is taken. Nevertheless, the report offers some insight, not otherwise available, into the ACMA’s enforcement practices over time. Further work could provide additional reflection on the effect of the ACMA’s numerous compliance audits of communications providers over this time period (noted in Annex C of the Report); the extent to which the degree of consumer harm is an element in decisions on enforcement action; the relative merits of using available alternative enforcement mechanisms (eg, formal warnings or directions to comply for code breaches); the targeting of available enforcement resources to service providers with demonstrated compliance problems; and the additional deterrence value of civil penalties and injunctions.

Finally, the material considered in this report highlights the importance of publicly available data on enforcement of consumer protection rules and suggests the need for a statutory register of completed investigations and enforcement action.

Download PDF: 

The Enforcement of Telecommunications Consumer Protections

Our research was funded by a research grant from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. The operation of ACCAN is made possible by funding provided by the Commonwealth of Australia under section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. This funding is recovered from charges on telecommunications carriers. 

New report on ACMA enforcement shows need for greater information

Better public information on regulator enforcement is required, according to a new report published by the Centre for Media Transition.

The Centre, an interdisciplinary research unit within the University of Technology Sydney, published The Enforcement of Telecommunications Consumer Protections report, detailing the enforcement actions undertaken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) from January 2010 to June 2023 to ensure compliance with consumer protections.

The report, commissioned by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), highlights the importance of reliable public information on enforcement.

Key findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • The ACMA should increase transparency and accountability around how they enforce telecommunications rules by establishing a public register of enforcement actions.
  • According to public information, from January 2010 to June 2023 the entire telecommunications sector may have paid $6,143,160 in infringement fines for breaches to consumer protection rules.
  • According to public information, from January 2010 to June 2023, the ACMA obtained only three civil penalty orders against telco providers totalling $1,077,625 for breaches to consumer protection rules.

ACCAN Acting CEO Gareth Downing said that the Centre for Media Transition has developed important research which will assist policymakers, regulators and industry to improve trust within the telecommunications sector.

“This report provides another piece of evidence for reforming the way telecommunications are regulated in Australia. It is a resource for policymakers as they consider the policy settings for the use of enforcement mechanisms, whether fines for telco non-compliance should be increased, whether ACMA should be able to take action other than a formal warning or a direction to comply when the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code is initially breached, and what higher penalties should apply for providers who cause serious consumer harm,” Dr Downing said.

“We urge the government to consider this report and respond by improving publicly available information about telco enforcement, and strengthening the resourcing and powers of the ACMA.”

“The report flags that the ACMA relies heavily on warnings and other non-financial actions in enforcing compliance. It lends strength to our view that matters such as domestic and family violence are too important to leave to industry codes, and should be subject to direct regulation.

“We congratulate the Centre for Media Transition on the launch of this report, and look forward to  engaging with industry, government and regulators on these critical issues,” Dr Downing concluded.

The full report will be published on Wednesday 3rd April, with a public webinar to follow at 12pm on Thursday 18th April. Report authors are available for comment on request.

Download: MEDIA RELEASE – ACMA enforcement report shows need for greater information4.74 MB 

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