New Consumer Protection Code a Boon for Telecommunications Users
Deirdre Mason Appointed Chair of Communications Compliance Ltd
Sydney, 11 July 2012 – Communications Alliance today welcomed the Australian and Communications Media Authority’s (ACMA’s) decision to register the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code – a new benchmark for customer service and complaint handling in the communications sector.
Communications Alliance also announced the appointment of experienced Director and telco industry veteran Ms Deirdre Mason as the Independent Chair of Communications Compliance Ltd – the company newly created to foster and monitor industry-wide compliance with the TCP Code.
Ms Mason – a former Director of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), former Chief Executive of the Committee for Sydney and a long-time Telstra executive, responsible for consumer relations – is one of three Directors appointed to Communications Compliance (CC) by the Board of Communications Alliance Ltd.
Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, said the new TCP Code was the most comprehensive upgrade of consumer protections ever achieved in the telco sector.
“From much-improved complaint handling and customer service, the introduction of unit-pricing, stronger controls on advertising and billing content, better pre-sale information for consumers and improved credit management, through to a strong, pro-active approach to ensuring compliance, this Code heralds a sea-change in the telco consumer experience in Australia,” Mr Stanton said.
Mr Stanton paid tribute to the stakeholders who played an integral role in the development of the Code, including the ACMA, Minister Stephen Conroy and his Department and advisers, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and a talented team of consumer and industry representatives from more than 20 service providers and organisations.
A summary of the key improvements and initiatives in the Code is at Attachment 1. The Code can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.commsalliance.com.au/Documents/all/codes/c628 . Communications Alliance Chair and former Federal Minister for Communications, Mr Michael Lee, will also serve on the Communications Compliance Board.
Communications Compliance will call for expressions of interest from consumer representatives to occupy the third non-executive Director position on its Board. Ms Margaret Fleming will serve on the CC Board in a transitional role until the consumer-representative Director is appointed. The CC Board will also search for an Executive Director to lead the day-to-day operations of the new company.
Mr Stanton described the creation of CC as a landmark event in the transformation of telco industry customer service and complaint handling.
“Communications Compliance fills a vital gap in the co-regulatory framework – that of a strong independent body to verify that service providers nationwide are complying with the comprehensive and expanded set of consumer protections enshrined in the revised TCP Code.
“With founding Directors of the stature and experience of Ms Mason and Mr Lee, CC is on course to play a key role in ensuring an industry-wide culture of compliance that will materially improve the service experience of telecommunications consumers across Australia – to the benefit of customers and service providers alike.
“CC is a company limited by guarantee and independent of Communications Alliance and the industry, and will benefit from direct consumer input at the Board and management levels.”
Ms Mason said that she was looking forward to the development of a valuable tool-kit for the industry as service providers gear up for the 1 September implementation date of the Code.
“I anticipate that Communications Compliance will be able to supply easy to use processes that simplify adherence to the new Code,” she said.
Mr Stanton urged all industry players who have not already undertaken training to assist them to achieve compliance with the TCP Code to do so by registering their interest http://www.commsalliance.com.au/events/Calendar/2012-Event-06 .
ABOUT COMMUNICATIONS COMPLIANCE
Communications Compliance has been established to create a national compliance monitoring regime to underpin the revised TCP Code, which takes effect on 1 September 2012.
CC will receive verified attestations from all Australian Carriage Service Providers (CSPs) as to whether they are compliant with the Code provisions, which cover key customer interfaces including consumer service and contracts, advertising, billing, credit and debt management, provision of information to customers, changing suppliers and complaint handling.
CSPs that are not fully compliant will be required to submit an ‘action plan’ detailing areas of non-compliance and how the CSP will remedy these to achieve compliance.
CC will publicly identify suppliers who have achieved compliance as well as naming those CSPs that are not compliant – including the nature of the non-compliance. CC will focus on ways to help CSPs become compliant, including via monitoring of progress against Action Plan milestones, external investigations of compliance problems where necessary, and recommendations of corrective actions by CSPs.
CC will also have the power at any time to refer CSPs to the ACMA for investigation and/or enforcement when CSPs cannot or will not change their practices to achieve compliance.
(NB: CC is not a regulatory enforcement body – a function that will appropriately continue to reside with the ACMA. Neither is CC an external complaint-handling body – a function primarily the responsibility of the TIO).
CC will be assisted in its work by Memoranda of Understanding that it will establish with the ACMA, TIO and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), to ensure that it receives complaints data in useable formats and has coordination procedures in place with the regulators.
An advisory committee of two consumer and two industry representatives will also be created to assist the CC Executive Director in the ongoing operation of the company. CC will benefit from initial seed funding provided by Communications Alliance on commercial terms, but it is expected to become financially self-sustaining through membership and/or usage fees levied on industry participants.
ABOUT COMMUNICATIONS ALLIANCE
Communications Alliance is the primary telecommunications industry body in Australia. Its membership is drawn from a wide cross-section of the communications industry, including carriers, carriage and internet service providers, content providers, search engines, equipment vendors, IT companies, consultants and business groups.
Its vision is to provide a unified voice for the telecommunications industry and to lead it into the next generation of converging networks, technologies and services. The prime mission of Communications Alliance is to promote the growth of the Australian communications industry and the protection of consumer interests by fostering the highest standards of business ethics and behaviour through industry self-governance. For more details about Communications Alliance, see www.commsalliance.com.au.
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Attachment 1: Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code 2012
Key Features & Improvements
Unit-pricing: Advertisements for ‘included value’ mobile plans must prominently display standard pricing elements, i.e. the cost of a 2 minute standard mobile call, the cost of a standard sms and the cost of 1MB data.
Critical Information Summary: A standardised summary of key product and pricing information (including the number of 2 minute calls customers can make using their included value), delivered prior to sale to help consumers understand products better and compare different offers before they buy.
Phase-out of “Cap”: Use of the term “cap” for new plans will be prohibited unless the “cap” is a hard cap that cannot be exceeded.
Stronger prohibitions on potentially misleading terms and stronger controls on network coverage/speed claims.
Usage notifications: Consumers will receive usage notifications when 50%, 85% and 100% of the allowance of the included value of a mobile or broadband internet plan has been used.
Billing: Bills will now also shows historic billing information (i.e. the amount of the last two bills) for included value mobile plans and must include any charges that exceed spend limits or included value thresholds. Stronger rules on free-of-charge provision of historic billing information. Back-billing period decreased to 160 days.
Complaint handling: Customers receive a unique reference number/identifier to track their complaint and an indicative timeframe for resolution. Immediate acknowledgement of a telephone or in-person complaint and all other complaints to be acknowledged within 2 working days. Complaints will be resolved within 15 working days from receipt of the complaint or as soon as practicable in all circumstances. Faster handling of urgent complaints. More explicit advice to consumers on external avenues of recourse, including the TIO.
Communications Compliance (CC): A new, independent body for compliance monitoring of the entire industry. Verified compliance attestations must be filed with CC. Suppliers who do not comply with the Code face public ‘naming and shaming’ and/or referral to the ACMA for investigation and enforcement.
NB: Due to their complex nature, some of the above improvements are subject to a phased implementation. For details, please refer to Clause 1.5 of the TCP Code.