Comms Alliance outs draft consumer code

The Communications Alliance has released the long-awaited draft Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code that the industry organisation says will reduce bill shock and provide better information to consumers.

The Communications Alliance has released the long-awaited draft Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code that the industry organisation says will reduce bill shock and provide better information to consumers.

Telephone

(Credit: Telephone image by plenty.r, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The update to the voluntary TCP code has been over 12 months in waiting, and will be key to prevent further regulation of the industry by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

According to the Communications Alliance, the new code aims to simplify advertising, mobile plans and bills, and provide more information in order to prevent so-called "bill shock".

The new draft code released today includes:

  • Telcos must display in large print advertisements for mobile plans the cost for making a two-minute standard national call on a mobile, the cost for sending an SMS in Australia and the cost for consuming one megabyte of data in Australia
  • There must be clearer advertising rules, such as avoiding using terms such as "unlimited" in advertising, and advertising actual download speeds rather than peak download speeds
  • Telcos must provide a summary of offer to customers before they buy post-paid products
  • There must be better "spend management tools" that allow customers to view their monthly usage to avoid bill shock
  • There should be stronger protection for credit and debt management for customers, including requirements for notifications of payments due, failed credit checks and when accounts will be passed onto collection agencies.

The new draft code will be open for comment from industry and consumers until 25 November 2011. After the code has been finalised and approved by the Communications Alliance board, it will be passed onto the ACMA for approval.

Following the release of its report into telecommunications customer service, the ACMA issued the industry with an ultimatum to toughen up the code or face harsher regulation from the authority.

Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said that the organisation will be consulting close with industry on the draft of the code to ensure it meets the standards required.

"We are in continuing and constructive dialogue with the ACMA and other players, including the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman [TIO] on a range of code issues, and will further refine the code in the light of inputs received during the public comment period," Stanton said in a statement.

Although the draft code was welcomed by the customer lobby organisation, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), CEO Teresa Corbin said that the self-regulatory nature of the code means that it will be difficult to ensure that telcos measure up to the standards required.

"With a self-regulatory code governing an industry as vital as telecommunications, the biggest issue is making sure that providers abide by the rules," Corbin said in a statement.

"[The] Communications Alliance proposes that it set up its own compliance and monitoring arm to be the independent watchdog. We're not convinced that this is best practice, and will be making further comment about that in our submission."

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