Could the continued rise in industry complaints force the government to conclude that the telco industry is incapable of self-regulation?
Back in March, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy released a discussion paper on the role of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). Last week in Sydney he said, if we'd known how the industry was to evolve, we might have taken a different approach when the TIO was established back in 1993.
He gave the address at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) conference. That was taken by some as a sure sign that the industry needs to lift its game, or face the consequences. Teresa Corbin, CEO of ACCAN, says a first step should be having a board that has equal shares of the industry and consumer representatives. At the moment she sits on an advisory board and reckons she should have a more influential role in the TIO.
Another alternative is that the government deems, on the basis of rising complaints (new TIO complaints were 31 per cent up in the last quarter), that the industry cannot effectively regulate itself.
Meanwhile, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released its own investigation into the levels of service offered by its industry. In its report Reconnecting the Customer it highlighted five changes that the industry should include in its Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code.
That code is maintained by the Communications Alliance. The alliance's CEO, John Stanton, says many of those changes were already incorporated in the code. I ask him whether words will really change much, given that it's a voluntary code.
The real issue might be that the industry doesn't understand what it is doing wrong. I suggested recently on ZDNet Australia that mobile phone plans — a cause of many customer complaints — are confusing to customers. It's a view reinforced by new research, Seeking Straight Answers: Consumer Decision-Making in Telecommunications (PDF), by Paul Harrison, deputy director at the Centre for Sustainable and Responsible Organisations in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University. He suggests some of the systemic problems in the industry will only be fixed with cultural change.
Is it time for the industry to change its ways?
Running time: 32 minutes, 10 seconds