The Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) has given formal warnings to Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone for their failure to provide information to consumers with disability about products and services that may suit their needs.
Telcos are required, under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, to provide information about disability products and services they offer to consumers who have identified such a need. Telcos are also required to provide a reasonable level of assistance to consumers with disability regarding where to access information about such products if the telco does not offer the appropriate product or service.
The formal warnings were sent out following an investigation by ACMA that found the telcos' sales staff had "significant gaps in knowledge and awareness of disability products" and were not equipped to assist consumers with disability in accordance to the TCP Code.
During the investigation of Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, the ACMA undertook shadow shopping exercises of contacting the telcos by visiting their stores, telephone, or webchat, to assess the extent to which the telcos offered products that suited the identified needs of consumers with disability.
Read: ACCAN launches Australia's first disability-friendly guide to telco products (TechRepublic)
"Telecommunications services play a vital role in the lives of all Australians. It is critical that consumers with a disability are able to find out about services and products that may suit their particular needs when making enquiries with their telco," ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.
The ACMA initiated the investigation after the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) performed research that was completed in 2017 that suggested poor sales practices among telcos in providing information to people with disabilities.
From their research, ACCAN found that telcos 50 percent of the time provided no information about products catered towards consumers with disability when such a need was identified. This was an increase of 9 percent from a similar research project that the ACCAN conducted in 2014.
According to ACMA, Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have since indicated they would ensure their sales staff are equipped with the right information about products and services for people with disability. According to ACCAN director of Inclusion Wayne Hawkins, the telcos are also in discussions about using Accessible Telecoms -- ACCAN's interactive website and call centre that provides information on the accessibility features of both mainstream and assistive telco equipment suitable for people with disability.
Last month, ACMA issued 11 remedial directions to 10 telcos, including Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, that had contravened the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) rules. The remedial directions call for the telcos to undertake independent audits of their processes, which entails conducting data reconciliations to ensure that specific customer information -- including phone numbers and addresses -- are provided 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.
Comms Alliance submits revised TCP Code to ACMA
Communications Alliance on Tuesday submitted a revised draft version of the TCP Code to ACMA for registration.
Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton explained that the revised TCP Code will have a "multi-pronged approach" of enforcing stricter requirements on credit assessments and selling practices, as well as offering greater transparency around the customer service performance of individual service providers.
The telecommunications industry body had submitted a separate, revised draft version of the TCP Code to the ACMA in February, with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) at the time releasing a report [PDF] that explained how providers can improve selling practices and reduce consumer debt.
Compared to the revised TCP Code submitted to the ACMA last month, the newest version proposes for further changes to be made around transparency, such as for the voluntary complaints reporting performed by telcos to be made mandatory for the top 10 recipients of TIO complaints.
Other proposed changes in the newest version are an expansion of TCP code protections to small businesses that have up to AU$40,000 in annual telecommunications spend, as well as additional rules to support consumers with disability, such as the implementation of mandatory training for all telco staff who interact with customers.
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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The search giant believes that if the consumer watchdog holds any particular concerns, it is welcome to investigate under existing Australian law.
Australia finally has a telecommunications products resource dedicated to people with disability.