Issue No 7: 25 March 2019



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Industry Proposes Upgraded Consumer Protections

Stronger, enforceable protections for Australia’s telecommunications consumers have been proposed to the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for registration.

Communications Alliance has submitted to the ACMA a revised draft version of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, following an extensive review of the Code by industry, consumers and other stakeholders.

The TCP Code is a code of conduct for the telecommunications industry in Australia, providing community safeguards in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management, financial hardship, and changing suppliers. Compliance with the Code is mandatory for all telecommunications providers servicing residential and small business consumers, and is enforceable by the ACMA.

The proposed changes are wide-ranging, strengthening consumer protections across a range of areas, with a focus on selling practices, credit assessment and greater transparency around the customer service performance of individual service providers. The changes seek to address concerns raised by consumer advocates and to make the code more adaptable to new and future technologies.

The revision was undertaken by a Committee of Industry, Consumer, Government, and Regulator representatives, led by an Independent Chair.

“The revised Code we submitted to the ACMA includes changes to ensure Consumers are signed up to the correct Telecommunications product and protected against inappropriate selling practices,” explained John Stanton, CEO of Communications Alliance.

“This was addressed through a multi-pronged approach, including stronger rules about fair selling practices, new credit assessment requirements for large contracts, and expanding requirements for contracts to ensure customers are clear on what they have purchased,

“We have also increased customer access to their customer service records, so they can address any questions or concerns they have about the products and services they are using,

“In order to ensure that Consumers who face financial hardship receive the appropriate assistance, the financial hardship provisions have been significantly expanded, increasing the obligations for the contents of the policy and streamlining the application and assessment process,

“We are also pleased to announce that improvements in Customer Service and Complaints Handling will be driven by increased transparency. We have proposed a requirement for the currently voluntary Complaints in Context report to be mandatory for the top 10 recipients of TIO Complaints, to create an easy to understand and accessible ‘league table’,” said Stanton.

Proposed changes also include expanding Code protections to more small businesses. The current Code applies to small businesses with an annual telecommunications spend limit of $20,000. The proposed Code expands this to small businesses with an annual spend of up to $40,000. There are also additional rules to support consumers with a disability or vulnerable consumers, including mandatory training for all staff who interact with consumers.

“These changes are proposed to the ACMA Authority for their consideration, and we look forward to their feedback on the revised Code. We will work with the ACMA over the coming months to facilitate registration of the Code,

“Once registered, we will coordinate with Communications Compliance and the ACMA to make educational material available to all telecommunications providers, clarifying their new obligations,” Stanton said.

“The revised Code, in combination with the ACMA Industry Standard on Complaints Handling, and Communications Compliance increasing their education activities across Industry, is an excellent example of the telecommunications co-regulatory system creating stronger protections for consumers while ensuring the industry can remain innovative and offer value to all consumers.”

The Cabling Products and Wiring Rules are Changing

New drafts of the Communications Alliance ‘best sellers’ – the rules for telecommunications customer premises cabling products and wiring – have been released for public consultation.

Proposed revisions to the Standards include safeguards for the distribution of hazardous voltages over communications cabling – an important step, given the growing trend toward communications cables also being used to carry electrical power.

New provisions also cater to the explosive growth of connected devices in Australian homes and businesses – ‘Smart Homes’ exploiting the ‘Internet of Things’.

The revised draft Standards are AS/CS S008 Requirements for Customer Cabling Products and AS/CA S009 Installation Requirements for Customer Cabling (Wiring Rules).

The Standards have been the backbone of the cabling industry in Australia for several decades. The objective of the Standards is to set out the minimum requirements to ensure:

  • the safety and integrity of a cabling installation in customer premises and of the telecommunications network to which it is connected; and
  • that cabling products used in Australia are fit for purpose.

The Standards are enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the nation’s 70,000 registered cablers treat them as their cabling ‘Bible’.

In 2017, Communications Alliance invited representatives from the industry and the ACMA to review the Standard and to verify whether it continues to fulfil its purpose under the regulatory compliance arrangements.

John Stanton, CEO of Communications Alliance, said the review process was extensive and benefited from expert input from more than 20 stakeholder organisations and individuals across the communications and broader industry.

“The cabling sector touches the lives of every Australian and it is important that Standards remain ‘fit for purpose’, particularly as new technologies and connected solutions change the face of cabling and networks”, Mr Stanton said.

The Working Committee responsible for the revision was chaired by Mr Murray Teale from VTI Services and has drawn upon the most currently available cabling industry information to review and update the two Standards.

The Cabling Products and Wiring Rules are Changing
One of the fundamental aims of the Standards is to prevent the exposure of telecommunications service provider employees, cabling providers, customers or other persons to hazardous voltages.
The Draft Standards propose new and revised requirements in a number of key areas, including:

  • a new three-stage classification system or ‘hazards-based standard engineering’ approach against potentially increasing risks from rising energy levels in cables, and safeguards between hazardous energy sources and body parts;
  • new voltage and amperage limits on electrical circuits that can be carried over generic customer cabling;
  • new requirements for communications cables that are also intended to be used to carry electrical power – for example to remotely powered devices such as wireless access points, surveillance cameras, smart lighting, digital signage, building management controllers and sensors;
  • new requirements to assist cablers to select cabling products that are fit for purpose for a particular installation;
  • additional rules for optical fibre systems to guard against laser hazards that can be associated with optical fibre systems;
  • incorporation of elements of the National Construction Code relating to cable flammability and ‘fire-stopping’ to help inhibit the propagation of fire; and
  • new rules for pit and access hole products, with the aim of improving public safety through a reduction in the number of trip hazards

The draft Standards are available from the public comment area of the Communications Alliance website. Comments on the draft are invited with a closing date of Friday, 24 May 2019.

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