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ACMA directs telcos to comply with industry code

The telco industry regulator in Australia has given six telcos directions to comply with the Telecommunications Protection Code.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has directed six telecommunications service providers to comply with its Telecommunications Protection (TCP) Code after failing to lodge a statement of code compliance for the last two years.

The six telcos directed to comply are AussieSim, Btel Communications, Datawave Internet, Golden IT, Harbour of Technology (Hotnet), and MVoice.

"The ACMA will continue to ensure industry participants work within industry 'accountability measures', so the ACMA will take action (such as issuing directions) if necessary," said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman.

The TCP Code, which came into effect in July 2012, requires all telcos operating within Australia to lodge a Customer Information Compliance Statement to independent body Communications Compliance (CommCom) every year by April 1.

The ACMA added that this year, 391 telcos did lodge the documents on time; in 2014, 331 lodged documentation, and in 2013, only 225 telcos lodged.

"While the ACMA won't be tolerating repeat instances of non-compliance, I'm obviously very pleased to see a general trend of greater compliance over the past few years and reduced complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman," Chapman said.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) welcomed the ACMA's directive, with CEO Teresa Corbin saying that action must be taken against telcos that don't fulfil the TCP Code requirements in order to protect consumers.

"The six telcos that have been directed to comply by the ACMA have had ample time to lift their game and submit the required documentation to CommCom," Corbin said. "We are glad to see that the ACMA is using its powers to direct these telcos to comply with the TCP Code to ensure consumer protections are in place.

"There's an appropriate level of service that is required in the telecommunications industry; if telcos aren't compliant with the TCP Code, then consumers lose out on important consumer protections. ACCAN is involved in important industry discussions to ensure that the current consumer protections remain in the code. It's critical that the ACMA steps in where providers are found to be non-compliant. We are pleased to see this occurring."

In September, the ACMA had formally warned more than 20 telcos over failing to lodge a statement of code compliance.

The formal warnings [PDF], issued under subsection 122(2) of the Telecommunications Act 1997, were sent out to 25 telcos, including Amnet, Tele-Talk, Novatel, Infiniti, Blue Telecom, Wire Networks, Supercheap Telco, Telco4u, ReddeNet, and Call Central Communications.

"While this number of warnings may seem high, it actually reflects a trend of increasing compliance within the telecommunications industry, with the number of CommCom warnings down from 39 in 2014 and 95 in 2013," Chapman said.

The ACMA issues formal warnings to those companies that are first-time offenders, with the regulator presently debating further action to be taken against those already under investigation for other breaches.

Since coming into effect, 178 formal warnings, 35 directions to comply, and one infringement notice have been sent out by the ACMA under the TCP Code.

The primary purposes of the TCP Code are to require telcos to provide consumers with clear information about what their mobile phone plans offer, including a two-page summary of every plan; notify customers about how much voice and data they have used under their plan; and suggest spend-management tools to prevent future overuse. Customer complaints handling was also made more effective and timely under the code.

The ACMA is also currently involved in talks with the government over regulating spectrum usage, with the ACMA having published a list of recommendations in its Spectrum Review Report [PDF].

In that report, the Department of Communications and the ACMA called for a move away from the outdated 23-year-old governing legislation, the Radio Communications Act, to a modern system enabling more market-based activity to allow telcos to share and trade spectrum being used for mobile services.

The government in August confirmed that it would be implementing the ACMA's suggestions, saying that the Minister for Communications will have direction and oversight in forming policy while consulting with the ACMA. Day-to-day management responsibility of the new regulations would fall to the ACMA, with the industry body to make annual reports on the process.

The core parameters that are expected to be covered by the new regulations include the spectrum's frequency, geographic location, duration, whether a licence can be renewed, conditions where the ACMA would not renew a licence, terms for changing and revoking licences, payment mechanisms, and amounts to be charged.

"This is a win for industry and consumers," deputy ACMA chairman Richard Bean said at the time.

"It provides a more responsive regulatory regime -- rather than black-letter law -- that will take away unnecessary barriers; reducing delays and costs of getting new technologies to the market."