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Examining fixed phone and broadband products

ACCAN has commissioned a research project with Market Clarity to determine the telecommunications needs and wants of small business consumers and whether these are being met by the telcos.

The research raised concerns for ACCAN that the current offerings from telcos to small businesses do not match the increasingly heavy reliance that small businesses have on telecommunications. Service level agreements and performance guarantees for small businesses need to be available and enforced. Telcos need to champion their products and offer usable solutions and contingency plans in the event that their services fail. At the end of the day, the small business operator should not suffer inconvenience and loss of business due to a lack of services beyond their control. They should not have to deal with the details, they need faults fixed immediately or an agreed alternative needs to be provided by their telco.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO), which guarantees every premises access to a voice service, is outdated. Ensuring that the obligation is updated and that data and voice services are available to all is a key area of work for ACCAN.

Following our event in February, Rethinking the USO, and the findings of the Regional Telecommunications Review 2015, there was a need for further examination of options for the USO that delivers better for consumers. As such, ACCAN contracted John de Ridder, telecommunication economist, to prepare an Occasional Paper for ACCAN on the future of the USO to feed into our work and provide new perspectives.

In May 2015, ACCAN commissioned Galaxy Research to complete a survey of consumers regarding telco and ISP complaints. The survey found that 46 per cent of telco consumers reported having a problem with their phone or internet provider in the last year, representing more than 8.5 million Australians.

According to the survey, around one third of respondents (38 per cent) who had a problem with their phone or internet service, complained to their provider and were dissatisfied with the response from the telco. However, only nine per cent of these consumers escalated their complaint to the TIO suggesting that phone and internet providers have not improved the proportion of complaints that are resolved.

Telecommunications access and affordability among people experiencing financial hardship

Anglicare Victoria looked at over 300 of its low-income clients to investigate how they accessed telecommunications and whether they considered these services affordable.

The overwhelming conclusion was that telecommunications are not universally accessible. This is because 49% of those in the survey did not have home internet, and 56% didn't have mobile internet – such as a smartphone or a dongle. Two-thirds of mobile phone users had difficulty paying their phone bills and a similar number of people ran out of credit on their pre-paid mobile service sooner than they expected.

The full report is available on the ACCAN website.

This research report examined the implications of digital technology, particularly mobile apps, for the management of cultural knowledge. A group of young Aboriginal Australians participated in this project which mapped how they used apps to explore cultural knowledge.

The report is available through the ACCAN Grants Scheme webpage.

University of Sydney researcher, Dr Justine Humphry, surveyed and interviewed a number of Australians experiencing homelessness as well as employees of homelessness service providers. This resulted in a comprehensive report into the internet and mobile phone usage habits and experiences of this group of Australians.

The full report, including further information, can be found on the ACCAN Grants Scheme webpage.

Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) compiled a report outlining how the telecommunications industry's financial hardship policies and practices compare with those of the banking, energy and water industries. Through FCA's first-hand experiences of working with clients experiencing, or at risk of, financial hardship, as well as through discussions with consumer advocates, staff from industry hardship teams, government representatives and staff from external dispute resolution (EDR) schemes, a set of best practice recommendations was compiled.

The final report, with the recommendations, can be found on the ACCAN Grants Scheme webpage.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Melbourne investigated the fate of online accounts, financial assets and personal profiles when a user passes away. The team investigated licencing policies, terms of use agreements and copyright law, and interviewed a range of people, including funeral directors, religious workers, internet content and service providers, as well as estate planning lawyers. This work has been updated in 2017 and is now in a second edition.

The report, as well as further information, can be accessed via the ACCAN Grants Scheme webpage.

The National Children's and Youth Law Centre investigated the consumer, legal and financial issues faced by young Australians when they use mobile phones. This investigation led to a report outlining some of these common issues as well as to a set of resources for young Australians to better understand and navigate the mobile phone marketplace.

Funded under the ACCAN Grants Scheme, the final report as well as additional information, can be found on the Scheme's webpage.

The Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA) conducted research on the effectiveness of various digital literacy training methodologies that were being used by ASCCA's member clubs around Australia.

Further information on the project and the final report is available on the ACCAN Grants Scheme webpage.

In November 2012 the Telstra Telephone Exchange at Warrnambool, south west Victoria, caught on fire and disrupted the telecommunications services of an entire region. This research, conducted by RMIT University and funded under the ACCAN Grants Scheme, examined the social and financial impact of this outage on the residents and small businesses of the region.

The research report, as well as a series of 'survival plans' for businesses, government and individuals, can be found on the Grants Scheme webpage.

Earlier this year Google and ACCAN partnered to offer a paid internship opportunity with ACCAN. Applicants were invited to submit a brief proposal outlining a research project on an emerging communications consumer issue.

The winner was recent law graduate David Seidler, who tackled the hot topic of data retention. Seidler’s report Hacking the Grapevine: Data Retention and protecting Australian consumer privacy is a first-class piece of research by a talented up-and-coming lawyer.