10 telcos failed to give data for emergency services purposes: ACMA

ACMA has also received a revision of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code from the telco industry, who are pushing for stricter requirements on credit assessments and selling practices.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has issued 11 remedial directions following investigations that found 10 telcos had contravened the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) rules.

Clause 10 of schedule two to the Telecommunications Act requires telcos to give the IPND Manager information it reasonably requires to provide and maintain the database for emergency services purposes.

According to the remedial directions, the telcos must provide specific customer information, including phone numbers and addresses, to the secure IPND industry database used to assist the emergency call service, Triple Zero; the emergency alert system; and law enforcement and national security agencies.

Two remedial directions were issued to TransACT Capital Communications and the following telcos each received one remedial direction: Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, AAPT, Agile, Chime Communications, PowerTel, Primus Telecommunications, and Symbio Networks.

The telcos have also been directed to undertake independent audits of their processes, conduct data reconciliations, and comply with the IPND Code. Optus, Telstra, and Symbio have also been directed to address outstanding missing and inaccurate records.

"While the ACMA is not aware of any specific instances of harm caused by the missing or inaccurate information, the scale of the issue and its potential impact on emergency services is very concerning," said ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin.

"The ACMA has taken steps to ensure telcos prioritise remediation of their records and that the underlying causes of the breaches are identified and addressed."  

Telcos could potentially face penalties up to AU$10 million if they fail to comply with the remedial directions, and up to AU$250,000 after they comply with the directions.

The ACMA updated the IPND rules in 2017, allowing researchers and directory publishers to gain access to the IPND so that authorised research industry bodies were given more "efficient" access to telecommunications information after completing a privacy impact statement.

While research bodies are not permitted to access the names of customers or to unlisted numbers, they are able to access phone numbers and postcodes provided only for the purpose of research on health, electoral, or government policy topics.

Telcos push stricter credit assessments and selling practices

Meanwhile, the Communcations Alliance has submitted a revision of telecommunications regulation to ACMA for registration that pushes for stricter requirements on credit assessments and selling practices. The proposed changes are contained in a revised version of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code.

According to Comms Alliance, the changes will include: Stronger rules around responsible selling practices, including that suppliers must ensure that sales representatives promote and sell products in a fair, transparent, and accurate manner; tighter control on credit provision, including spending thresholds, beyond which suppliers must conduct a thorough credit assessment; upgraded arrangements to assist consumers in financial hardship; and greater transparency around the relative customer service performance of suppliers.

With ACMA considering a revised TCP code, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) released a report [PDF] on Tuesday that looked at how providers could improve selling practices and reduce consumer debt.

"TCP definition of credit assessment [does] not include an obligation to assess whether a customer can afford an individual post-paid service … this view does not reflect a focus on consumer protection," the report, which analysed the limitations of current credit assessments, said. 

In publishing the report, Ombudsman Judi Jones said the telecommunications industry should ensure it offers credit responsibly because financial over-commitment can cause considerable consumer harm.

The TIO, which had escaped the axe last year, also released a separate report earlier this month that showed customer complaint numbers were at a three-year low.

Measuring the amount of complaints made to the TIO, the figure had decreased to six complaints per 10,000 services for the period covering October to December 2018. Throughout 2018, the metric fell from a high of 9.3 to its current level.

"A full year of improvement demonstrates without question that the hard work by telecommunications providers is reaping dividends for customers," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"This has been a multi-faceted effort, and collaboration between industry, government, and regulators has been an important part of this success."

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