Telecomms ombudsman calls on industry to raise awareness

Australian telecommunications providers should do more to inform customers of their rights, according to the industry's ombudsman, John Pinnock.Pinnock's comment came after his office released statistics appearing to indicate Australians living in remote and regional areas were less likely to complain about telecommunications services than their city counterparts.

Australian telecommunications providers should do more to inform customers of their rights, according to the industry's ombudsman, John Pinnock.

Pinnock's comment came after his office released statistics appearing to indicate Australians living in remote and regional areas were less likely to complain about telecommunications services than their city counterparts.

According to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's office, only one person in every 1000 Australians living in remote parts of Australia complained to the TIO, while in city areas the number jumped to three.

The TIO's office said possible reasons for the difference included higher availability and uptake of telecommunications services in metropolitan areas. However, Pinnock believes low consumer awareness is the most likely of the three.

"My own hunch is that although all three factors may be involved, I think we're measuring [consumer] awareness," said Pinnock.

Pinnock's belief is backed by the findings of the Regional Telecommunications Inquiry, released in February. The Estens report found that awareness of consumer safeguards in the bush was low.

The Department of Information Technology, Communications and the Arts pledged to run public awareness campaigns to address the problem, but Pinnock believes that it is an issue for TIO members.

"We do about as much as we can manage within our budget but in my view it is an issue for the TIO's own members," he said.

For now, it appears that carriers are generally resisting efforts to raise awareness of complaints bodies like the TIO.

While some telecommunications providers such as Optus have experimented with adding messages to billing statements that would raise awareness of the TIO, the industry in general is frightened that such methods would see the TIO become the first port of call for complainants.

"This is a major issue because the carriers are reluctant to engage in bill messages," Pinnock said. "Not only because of arguments about priorities as to what should go on the bills, but they are worried that bill messages will inspire 'first resort' complaints".

The TIO's funding is partly dependent on financial penalties issued against carriers arising from complaints.