Telecomms ombudsman wants greater powers

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) says he needs the power to investigate customer complaints over content issues as well as carriage services.Ombudsman John Pinnock -- whose office provides a dispute resolution mechanism for customers unable to get satisfaction from their telecommunications provider -- chose his introduction to the TIO April newsletter to make the push for extra powers.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) says he needs the power to investigate customer complaints over content issues as well as carriage services.

Ombudsman John Pinnock -- whose office provides a dispute resolution mechanism for customers unable to get satisfaction from their telecommunications provider -- chose his introduction to the TIO April newsletter to make the push for extra powers. Pinnock said the fact he was prohibited from investigating complaints about content was one of the key limitations of his office.

The ombudsman gave the example of complaints about the provision of adult content via mobile phones. Most complaints, Pinnock said, would relate to a consumer being unwilling to pay a bill as they would claim not to have received what they ordered. Under its current guidelines, the TIO could not investigate such content-related complaints.

However, Pinnock said, "experience shows that these complaints will land in the lap of the TIO, even if a separate body is established to handle content complaints." Any such separate body, he said, would reduce the efficiency of complaints handling.

He told ZDNet Australia&nbsp the upcoming merger of the broadcasting and communications regulators in Australia created an opportunity for the TIO's role to be re-examined. This, he said, was because convergence of content and carriage would be reflected in legislation guiding the new regulator.

The solution, according to Pinnock, is for the TIO to become a "one-stop shop", which he would call the "Communications Industry Ombudsman". This would enable the ombudsman to handle all complaints relating to communications, including those that relate to bundled services such as pay-TV.

"I don't want anyone arguing," said Pinnock, "that because the complaint involves content, it's out of my jurisdiction. The point is this: if you get a billing complaint that says "this content is not what I paid for", then that complaint is within my jurisdiction."

Pinnock said consumer protection would be significantly weakened if the industry ignored the potential of a greater future role for the TIO.

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