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The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is investigating options for internal reform in the wake of recommendations from the Consumer Safeguards Review Part A: Complaints handling and consumer redress. The first part of this investigation relates to possible changes to the TIO Constitution to reform the structure and selection of its Board. ACCAN’s response to the TIO Option Paper proposed a number of changes to enhance the independence of the TIO Board and strengthen the consumer perspective in Board matters.

The peak body for the telecommunications industry, Communications Alliance, has conducted a preliminary consultation on a Draft Industry Guidance Note about appointment of Authorised Representatives and Advocates. Authorised representatives are usually lawyers, financial counsellors or family members of customers who need assistance managing their telco affairs.

The Draft Guidance Note provides recommendations about how telcos should go about authorising representatives who act on behalf customers.

Communications Alliance will be consulting further on the Guidance Note in September 2019.

In our written feedback, ACCAN proposed that substantial adjustments be made to improve the efficiency and fairness of the authorisation process.

ACCAN recently submitted to the ACCC’s inquiry into the proposed extension of expiring non-price provisions of the NBN’s Special Access Undertaking (SAU). The SAU sets out the terms on which service providers can access NBN infrastructure.

The expiring provisions are about:

    • consultation processes for the design of products and pricing by NBN;
    • dispute resolution processes; and
    • arrangements to modify network technology design.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is reviewing ways to combat scams carried out over telco networks (via phone, email and SMS) as a part of their Scam Technology Project. They invited public feedback on ways technology can block and minimise this type of scam activity, how consumers experience and avoid scams, and current challenges to stopping scam activity. ACCAN’s submission focuses on the consumer experience of scams, and how to improve consumer education about scam activity.

The NBN Transfer Code sets out principles for industry co-operation in the management of transfers of NBN services between retail service providers. Recently, the NBN Transfer Code was reviewed by the Communications Alliance.

In our submission ACCAN recommended that the Code be reconfirmed, and that:

  • the code be revised to include time-frames for the transfer of services;

  • the code be revised to oblige providers to inform consumers if a fault occurs in the transfer process;

  • the code incorporate reference to the Australian Privacy Principles for smaller providers in order to ensure a consistent industry wide approach to privacy.

Calling Number Display (CND) allows the people you call to see your telephone number displayed on the screen of their telephone. It applies to both mobile phones and landlines. If you don't have a silent line, unlisted number or have not blocked CND, the people you call will generally be able to see your number on their telephone screen.

The CND feature has important privacy implications because there may be times when consumers don't want their number identified to the person they are calling. Recently, the Calling Number Display Guideline was reviewed by the Communications Alliance.

In our submission ACCAN recommended that the Guideline be reconfirmed, and that:

In 2019, the telco industry is reviewing the Mobile Premium Services (MPS) Code. Mobile Premium Services (MPS) allow consumers to pay for digital content (like apps or games) and services (like competition entries, voting and charity donations) on their mobile phone account or using pre-paid credit.

The MPS Code aims to safeguard consumers from an industry which has a history of poor practice.

ACCAN believes that many of the additional protections proposed in the public consultation will have little or no substantive effect on consumer outcomes due to their limited scope and applicability.

The ACCC is reviewing the performance standards that NBN provides to its customers (telco retailers). This includes NBN response times to fix problems on its network and get consumer premises connected. Currently, these standards and any penalties for breaches are contained in commercial contracts with NBN’s customers. The ACCC is reviewing whether further measures are required to improve NBN’s service.

The Federal Government is reviewing Telstra’s Carrier Licence as the existing one is due to expire in April 2019. The Government has proposed to maintain the existing conditions of Telstra’s licence with some minor amendments for current policies.

ACCAN has proposed that the remaking of Telstra’s licence conditions offers the opportunity to improve Telstra’s network reliability framework that reports Telstra’s network performance. Telstra’s copper network will remain important in regional areas outside the fixed NBN footprint such that improved monitoring continues to be important after the NBN is rolled out.

Image of a calculator Telecommunication services are essential for ensuring public health and safety, promoting access to educational and employment opportunities as well as social inclusiveness. ACCAN’s Pre-Budget Submission 2019-20 identifies market gaps and provides recommendations on telecommunications initiatives that will benefit consumers including:

The Federal Government is reviewing consumer protections in telecommunications. The aim is to ascertain whether existing arrangements will be fit for purpose in an environment where NBN is the underlying infrastructure provider, and consumer use of services has changed considerably since the existing framework was developed. The review is divided into three parts:

  • Part A – Redress and Complaints Handling - completed in 2018.
  • Part B – Reliability of Services - launched in November 2018 with submissions closing 18 January 2019.
  • Part C – Choice and Fairness - expected in the first half of 2019.

Parts 7 and 8 of the Telecommunications Act provide an important basis to ensure that broadband networks operate in a similar way and to the benefit of consumers. They require network operators to offer services to any retail providers on request (offer open access on a non-discriminatory basis) and that they must operate separate to the retail level (wholesale only). While these specify the operation of networks, the ultimate aim is to ensure competitive networks exist that benefit consumer by increasing choice of providers.

Since 2012 Telstra have had an exemption to comply with these requirements in the South Brisbane network area. Telstra have now requested a further extension, with the Minister for Communications and the Arts has proposing an extension to January 2020 (designated day).