Department of Communications reviews ACCAN funding

The NBN rollout among other changes in the telco industry has sparked the government to review its funding of ACCAN for consumer representation and research.

Due to "dramatic changes" in the Australian telecommunications landscape over the last 20 years, the Department of Communications has announced that it is looking into the funding of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), which is provided under legislation promoting consumer rights and research.

The government is looking into the "effectiveness" of Section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997, under which ACCAN is the sole recipient of funding thanks to two multi-year agreements that provide it with around AU$2 million per annum.

The latest five-year agreement, made in 2012, expires at the end of May 2017.

"As the National Broadband Network rollout continues to gather pace and consumers are presented with an ever-increasing variety of telecommunications options, consumers can face challenges in finding the right products and services to meet their needs," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement on the matter.

"This review provides an opportunity to assess whether Section 593 remains fit for purpose in an evolving telecommunications market, or if improvements could be made for the benefit of consumers.

"With the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network's current five-year funding agreement due to conclude in May 2017, now is an appropriate time to invite feedback on the effectiveness of both ACCAN itself and Section 593 of the Act to ensure that consumer interests remain well-represented into the future."

The Consumer representation: Review of section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 Issues paper is calling for submissions on whether ACCAN effectively performs its role of representing consumer rights in telecommunications; whether ACCAN engages with stakeholders such as industry players, government, and other consumer groups; whether ACCAN balances the representation of general consumers with representation of consumers with special needs; whether the government should continue funding a telco-specific consumer representative; and whether other activites should be considered for funding under Section 593.

Under its funding arrangements, ACCAN also distributes approximately AU$250,000 each year for the Independent Grants Program (IGP) for consumer research or representation projects.

The government is seeking submissions on whether research funded through the IGP has influenced industry behaviour or government policy; whether IGP changes could make it more useful to consumers; whether it is appropriate for the government to continue funding such research; and what changes should be made to the funding and who receives the funding.

The government is accepting submissions until November 25.