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In November 2016, the Department of Communications and the Arts undertook a review of funding for consumer representation and research and how ACCAN has delivered. This was a valuable opportunity to examine communications consumer representation and research; consider the current model’s effectiveness and the ongoing relevance of s593, as well as future considerations and options.

As part of the response we produced an infographic which compares consumer representation and research before ACCAN was established and an outline of the services we now provide each year. ACCAN’s full submission is also linked below.

In September the ACCC commenced a broad study into the telecommunications market and the likely developments over the next 5 years. It asked a range of questions about the market to understand if there are any potential issues that will negatively affect consumers. This included questions such as what information would be beneficial to consumers in choosing products, whether competition is working in the voice and broadband service market and whether there are issues with emerging technologies and services.

In 2016, the Mobile Premium Services (MPS) Code is being reviewed.  Mobile Premium Services (MPS) are information and entertainment services that deliver various forms of content to your mobile phone, and are charged to your phone account. The MPS Code aims to safeguard consumers from an industry which has a history of poor practice.

Market changes in the last year mean that consumers are able to buy more products in new ways, and charge them to their phone bill. As a result, ACCAN considers that the Code should be updated so that it adequately protects consumers.

There are a number of fixed networks delivering superfast broadband services (capable of delivering greater than 25Mbps download speeds). In October the ACCC consulted about the pricing and terms and conditions that should apply to some of these networks, such as Opticomm, OPENetworks, LBN Co, Telstra South Brisbane and TPGs FTTB networks. The price and terms for NBN are set out under different documents, called the Special Access Undertaking.

Competition law is critical so that companies can offer high quality of service at the lowest possible price. There are currently two sets of laws that cover competition in the telecommunications industry – one set is general, and the other telco industry specific. The Department of Communications and the Arts is looking at whether the industry specific rules are needed following the adoption of reforms proposed by the Harper Review in 2014.

ACCAN supports removing any overlap as long as this does not cause any detriment to consumers.

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) came into effect five years ago.  The Productivity Commission is reviewing how well the ACL is being enforced and administered by the ACCC and state and territory regulators. 

We want to make sure that all Australians receive equal protection under the ACL, regardless of where they live. We also want to ensure that consumers have access to the right information so they can make informed choices about which products and services to buy. 

How the nbn offers services to retail service providers and the prices that it charges them is set out in a document called the ‘Special Access Undertaking (SAU)’. It is an important document that was first agreed in 2013 and will affect the price and quality of telecommunication services until 2040.

Earlier this year nbn asked for a number of changes to the document. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has the power to decide if the changes proposed are in the interest of consumers and has asked for feedback on them.

In July the ACCC released a discussion paper on telco industry claims to consumers about broadband speeds.

Broadband speed claims is an issue that ACCAN members and consumers regularly express frustration about. They can be confusing and misleading, because they often do not match the speeds services can actually achieve in real-world conditions. ACCAN welcomes the ACCC investigation into this area and believes that further guidelines for retail service providers (RSPs) are needed to improve advertising practices. Standardised comparable information on actual predicted performance to assist consumers navigate the market. The proposed Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program, which aims to test service performance, is needed to support and verify the claims made by RSPs.

The Federal Government is working on a Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) project. The project aims to make it easier for people to have a single digital identity when accessing government services online. These services might include Medicare, tax, and Centrelink.

ACCAN has submitted to the Government on the process it has followed in the TDIF project so far.

The Department of Communications and the Arts asked ACCAN to comment on whether the Do Not Call Register Regulations 2006 continue to play a valuable role in telemarketing. The Regulations support the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 by specifying some types of calls that are not intended to constitute telemarketing calls. Examples of these types of calls are product recall calls, fault rectification calls, and calls related to payments and bills.

ACCAN believes that the Regulations still play an important role in telemarketing, but think that some amendments could be made to strengthen consumer protections.

The Productivity Commission is investigating the costs and benefits of increasing the availability and use of private and public data by individuals and organisations, including consumers’ access to data about themselves. Increasing the availability and use of data could stimulate innovation and competition, leading to increased choice and better decision-making for consumers. ACCAN broadly supports the Productivity Commission’s inquiry but outlines a number of concerns and recommendations in its submission.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can use Telstra’s ADSL network to supply consumers with internet services without the need for their own equipment, called Wholesale ADSL (WADSL) services. To ensure that consumers can access a range of ISPs at affordable prices the ACCC declared these WADSL services in 2012 for a 5 year period. With the current declaration expiring next year the ACCC is investigating if this is still needed.