Telcos cop it over complaints submissions

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has criticised the country's telco industry for its lacklustre response to the authority's customer service inquiry.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has criticised the country's telco industry for its lacklustre response to the authority's customer service inquiry.


(The telephone image by Sam Garza, CC2.0)

On Sunday, the ACMA released over 120 public submissions for its "Reconnecting the Customer" inquiry. The submission received responses from consumers, industry, customer representatives and other organisations, and has published these on the ACMA website. ACMA chairman Chris Chapman welcomed the response, but criticised the industry submissions for not addressing the questions raised by the inquiry.

"There has been a healthy response from members of the public and consumer representatives. But frankly the response from industry falls short of what we had expected, given the early positive signals from industry chief executives," Chapman said in a statement.

"Too many of the submissions were little more than reiterations of the current self-regulatory framework and cautioned against any regulatory intervention," he added. "I was surprised the telcos did not come up with more constructive solutions to issues they admit are major problems."

In its submission (PDF), Telstra reiterated CEO David Thodey's comments when he originally took on the role that customer service was now fundamental to the company. The telco giant noted a significant reduction of complaints made against it to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in 2009-2010 and advised against any regulatory reform while "market-based" approaches were working.

This was a sentiment echoed by the telco's biggest rival, Optus, in its submission (PDF) to the inquiry.

"Optus believes that any future regulations imposed on telecommunications providers must be based on clear evidence that market failure exists, and that it is possible to ameliorate that market failure with well-targeted and outcomes-orientated regulatory measure," the submission stated.

Optus cited the release of the iPhone and the subsequent "temporary network performance issues" for the reason for the rise in complaints to the TIO in 2009.

Vodafone Hutchinson Australia also blamed the iPhone for an increase in consumer complaints in its submission (PDF), noting that rises in complaints from consumers often coincided with the release of new technologies. The company claimed that some customer complaints were not genuine, and were just seeking a free iPhone upgrade.

"VHA received a record number of 'complaints' coinciding with the launch of the Apple iPhone 4. VHA's view was that some of the customers were using the complaints process as a means of seeking to upgrade their mobile handset for free to iPhone 4," the submission stated. The company did not view these complaints as being genuine.

VHA also pointed out that growing awareness of the role of the TIO also led to a growth in the number of complaints.

Following the release of the public submissions, ACMA will conduct a number of hearings, forums and workshops around Australia, starting with hearings in Sydney and Melbourne in October. Hearings in Adelaide, Townsville and Launceston are expected to be conducted in November.


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