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The Regional Connectivity Program is part of the Government’s $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package. It was announced in the Government’s response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review.

The Regional Connectivity Program will complement the NBN, the Mobile Black Spot Program and commercial investment plans of telco providers. The $60 million funding of the Regional Connectivity Program includes:

  • A competitive grants program
  • A digital technology hub
  • Alternative voice service trials in remote areas
  • Further development of the Universal Service Guarantee

The Department of Communications and the Arts is consulting on the application framework for grants to build communications infrastructure in rural, regional and remote communities.

This consultation focused on the design of the competitive grants program.

ACCAN wrote a submission supporting the Department’s approach and made a number of additional suggestions in order to ensure the program provides money to the communities that most need it.

‘Standards Australia is reviewing the ways in which it distributes and licenses its standards. Standards are documents that set a benchmark for how something should be done or made by an individual, company, or industry. They can be adopted into regulation or legislation. Standards Australia has been investigating how to license and distribute standards in a way that delivers:

  • Greater reach for Standards Australia’s content,
  • Better awareness and use of standards,
  • Financial sustainability.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has conducted a second-round of consultation on the Emergency Call Service (ECS) Determination. A draft ECS Determination 2019 was provided for comment, in which a number of changes have been made based on the results of the first consultation process (completed in November 2018). It also outlines options for a trial of alternative call handling methods for SIM-less calls to the ECS.

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 has made some submissions to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regarding caption exemption draft orders for Fetch TV, Foxtel Cable Television, Optus Vision Media, Selectra and Telstra Pay TV.

In our submissions we urged the ACMA to deny the exemption applications, as Australians who rely on closed captions should be ensured the same functional access to television services as other Australians. We continue to call for equitable access to video programming, including subscription television services, for people who are Deaf or have hearing impairment.

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science undertook a public consultation on Australia’s Ethics Framework in relation to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

ACCAN made a brief submission to this consultation. We outlined that consumer safeguards must be put in place to protect consumers from any unintended outcomes of new technology such as AI. We stated that compliance and enforcement procedures in relation to the ethical use of AI are necessary to protect consumers, as existing human rights, legislative and regulatory frameworks alone cannot completely protect consumers against unethical behaviour.

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.