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31 telcos face enforcement action for inadequate complaints processes: ACMA

Following ACMA investigations, 31 telcos face enforcement action for failing to meet the new NBN standards for complaints-handling.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced following its investigations that 31 telcos do not comply with the new National Broadband Network (NBN) standards -- enforced on July 1 -- of having appropriate documented complaints-handling processes in place for customers.

The ACMA investigated 41 telcos, of which: Seven telcos complied with the new rules; three telcos undertook "comprehensive remediation" to move into full compliance; 27 telcos took positive steps to comply; and four telcos took inadequate steps to comply.

"Having a documented complaints-handling process available for customers should be standard practice for every telco", said ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin.

"Consumers should know how their telco will deal with their complaint. They should also have confidence that their complaint will be dealt with effectively, without 'buck-passing' across the service supply chain."

Following the investigation, the ACMA has ordered four telcos -- Australia Broadband, Flip TV, Oztalk Communications, and Hello Broadband -- to fix their deficiencies by December 19.

Failure to comply with these remedial directions will result in these telcos being fined up to AU$10 million, according to the ACMA.

27 other telcos were also issued formal warnings to ensure that appropriate documented complaints-handling processes are implemented.

"The ACMA has put in place a comprehensive set of rules to ensure the telco industry lifts its game in complaints-handling. We are now moving to enforce those rules," said O'Loughlin.

The investigation flows from the ACMA's compliance audit conducted in November, where it found that 41 telcos did not provide consumers with the minimum complaints-handling information required under a new standard.

The ACMA has increased its audit and compliance activities, having launched 59 new investigations between July and September, 41 of which were related to the new NBN standards.

In 2018, customer complaints increased marginally, but dropped during the final quarter including across the NBN, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Complaints increased by 6.2 percent year-on-year, but dropped by 17.8 percent quarter-on-quarter in Q4.

The decrease in complaints follows government action after NBN complaints previously tripled, Ombudsman Jones said in October, pointing to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's speed monitoring reports and orders for retailers such as Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet, Internode, Dodo, iPrimus, and Commander to compensate tens of thousands of customers for not delivering on their speed promises.

The ACMA also announced in August that it will be enforcing new NBN migration rules, with the federal government agency's powers backed up by the ability to commence court proceedings to seek injunctions and civil penalties of up to AU$10 million.

Publishing its compliance and enforcement statement of approach that month, the ACMA said the new migration rules will ensure consumers have better access to information on NBN services, are given backup options if services are not working, and have complaints addressed faster and more effectively.

The ACMA is also looking into how to implement new networking technologies to prevent scam calls from coming through to Australians.

The new initiative by the ACMA, titled the Scam Technology Project, will "investigate what can be done to disrupt scam call activity", O'Loughlin said earlier this month, including consumer or network-based solutions such as using traffic authentication protocols and blocking calls.

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