CA Rebuts TIO Call for Direct Consumer Regulation
Communications Alliance has rejected arguments made by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman for direct consumer regulation of telcos as inaccurate, misleading and based on unsubstantiated analysis.
As CommsDay reported on Friday, TIO Cynthia Gebert said that falling complaint numbers belied what she said was rising “unmet complaint demand” and record distrust on telcos. She was critical of consumer codes for being written by industry, suggesting that a move to direct regulation would be “more appropriate” and “easily enforced.” She emphasised that the existing regulatory approach hasn’t meaningfully changed since 1997.
But Communications Alliance—which drafts most industry codes—rejected Gebert’s analysis on Friday.
“The volume of complaints to the TIO is at a record low— around a third of what it was six years ago—in an environment where service numbers, product diversity and quality have risen, while prices have fallen in real terms,” Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton told CommsDay.
“All this has been achieved over a period of massive change in the industry, including the roll-out of 5G and a new national broadband network.”
“This would seem to evidence a level of success.”
Stanton also disputed claims that the regime hadn’t significantly evolved since 1997, stating: “the TCP code has undergone three major revisions and several amendments since 2010 – each of these events introducing new and stronger enforceable provisions in areas including complaint handling, billing, provision of information and customer transfer. The current revision will also strengthen the code further, including via enforceable provisions around the treatment of consumers who are or might be subject to domestic or family violence, or in vulnerable circumstances.”
Stanton also refuted Gebert’s claim that “key consumer protections” are currently “drafted by industry” and that “government should regulate the minimum standards consumers can expect.”
“The TIO’s implication that industry writes its own rules for customer protections ignores the realities of the code process – which includes extensive and transparent public consultation, to produce a draft document that only takes effect if the regulator concludes that it is fit for purpose and sees evidence that various entities have been consulted during the development of the code,” Stanton said, namechecking the competition and privacy regulators, consumer representatives and the TIO itself as those who had a say on the draft and final codes.
“The TCP code is as much ACMA’s code as it is industry’s,” said Stanton.
Stanton also referenced Gebert’s call for a national telco register, which would set credential tests in areas such as regulatory compliance, financial viability and organisational competence. Gebert said such a register could help rebuild trust in the sector.
Stanton said “Communications Alliance agrees that there ought to be a definitive register of service providers in Australia. Our board of directors has proposed the creation of such a register which also should not impose undue costs on service providers, along with a suite of proposals designed to accelerate the enforcement process around consumer-related industry codes.”
Stanton continued: “We also need to consider the implications of what the TIO is asking for. Moving from a framework that utilises the strengths of co-regulation - i.e. the creation of practicable solutions to meet a policy objective; to a framework that relies purely on direct regulation for consumer protections is likely to result in reduced competition, fewer providers and increased costs. These are not likely to be the outcomes that consumers or government are looking for.”
Gebert also praised the example of what she described as the “direct regulation” of the Complaints Handling Standard introduced in 2018. But Comms Alliance program director Christiane Gillespie-Jones rejected this, telling CommsDay: “Importantly, complaint numbers fell by around 20 percent prior to the making of the Complaint Handling Standard by the Australian Communications and Media Authority
in July 2018 – which is modelled on the complaint handling chapter of the TCP code applicable at that time.”
“Complaints have kept falling ever since. It is simply not correct to claim that these falling numbers are evidence of the benefits of direct regulation. It would rather seem to evidence a level of success achieved by the efforts of our sector on the basis of regulation that was largely industry-led, even if it was at later stages made into a standard by ACMA.”
Supporting Satellite Land, Maritime and Aeronautical Operations
Following the ACMA’s earlier review of the 1.5 GHz spectrum band (the L-band), the band is now being progressed to the preliminary re-planning stage of the ACMA’s spectrum planning process. Our members are keenly interested in review of arrangements for Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) in this band, which has been used for land, maritime and aeronautical operations for some time. The current consultation on re-planning process is now focusing on the extended L-band, where there will be similar services provided by industry via high performance MSS satellites.
The Communications Alliance Satellite Services Working Group (SSWG) has provided a submission to the ACMA supporting the introduction of MSS in all of the extended MSS L-band in a reasonable time frame, as long as the MSS is able to continue operating without harmful interference from future 1.5 GHz International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) or wireless broadband (WBB) services. The SSWG notes that it not practical to implement any measures before deciding on the incumbent or new services which may need coexistence measures, recommending for a transparent technical consultation mechanism, for instance via an ACMA Technical Licensing Group, to address these issues.
Below is a list of currently open telecommunications-related consultations being conducted by Government and other organisations that provide an opportunity for you to have your say.
Communications Alliance members interested in contributing to an industry submission (if one is being developed in response to a specific consultation) should contact us.