The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has dealt out formal warnings to 11 telcos for failing to tell prospective customers that they do not provide priority assistance (PA) services.
The telcos -- TPG, Aussie Broadband, MyRepublic, Foxtel, Activ8me, Exetel, Dodo, Skymesh, Southern Phone, Spintel, and V4 Telecom -- also failed to name a telco that provides PA services, the ACMA said.
"Telcos need to give consumers the full picture before signing them up to a service. This includes disclosing whether they offer PA," ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin said. "If they don't offer PA, they must tell people who does.
"We are concerned about any failure to meet obligations that are targeted at helping people in vulnerable circumstances."
Since ACMA kicked off the investigation, the 11 telcos have said they would revise their training and scripts for workers to communicate accurate priority assistance information.
"Further enforcement action may be taken if the issues reoccur, including directing the telcos to implement effective systems that ensure their PA obligations are being met, or commencing civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court," O'Loughlin added.
Telstra, the only Australian telco that is obliged to provide PA services, was at the end of last year directed by the ACMA to commission an independent audit of its compliance after the federal government agency found it to be in breach of assisting customers with life-threatening medical conditions.
"The remedial direction results from an investigation into Telstra following two incidents in 2017 where customers with serious, chronic health conditions were unable to use their Telstra landline service," ACMA said in October.
"Neither customer was registered for priority assistance, but both made plain their serious health conditions and their need for a working telephone service.
"In both cases, the customers passed away."
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According to ACMA, in both of these cases, Telstra failed to provide PA information eight times when customers had enquired, and did not use practice emergency medical request procedures nine times.
Under its PA obligations, Telstra is required to provide information to customers who enquire about the service; follow procedures to provide a working phone service to customers not registered for priority assistance but "have an urgent need" due to a life-threatening condition; and ensure the phone services of registered priority assistance customers are connected, and in the event of an outage given priority for repairs or provided with interim services.
Other telcos can voluntarily provide priority assistance services.
The ACMA, which is currently looking to revise the TCP Code, also recently gave out formal warnings to Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone for failing to provide products and services information to consumers with a disability; issued remedial directions to 10 telcos for contravening the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) rules; found that nine telcos had no metadata interception plan by mid-2018; and found that 41 telcos were not providing consumers with NBN complaints-handling information, 31 of which are facing enforcement action.
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 ACMA's 2017-18 report also reported almost 2.3 million disclosures of customer information by carriers under legal obligations to assist government agencies and departments.
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