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ACMA lauds TCP Code progress as compliance crackdown continues

Telco consumer protection code improving industry behaviour – but over 180 noncompliant providers still to be dealt with as comms authority patrols compliance and launches mobile network performance discussion paper to inform Nov 14 forum.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

While the phasing-in of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code since September 2012 seems to have improved advertising standards overall, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has formally pursued seven breaches of the TCP Code in the past  year and has more companies in its sights.

Outlining the organisation’s key priorities in a speech to the CommsDay Melbourne Congress, ACMA deputy chair Richard Bean said the industry’s push to become more customer-focused had produced tangible results across the industry this year, particularly in areas such as reducing the cost of overseas mobile roaming.

ACMA deputy chair Richard Bean says telecommunications companies' customer service is improving under the recently introduced TCP Code.
TCP Code compliance encouraging so far: ACMA deputy chair Richard Bean. Photo: David Braue

“All of the major providers have recently introduced new offerings which dramatically reduced the cost of new [roaming] offerings, particularly particularly overseas,” Bean said. “These changes are important progress, and show a fresh focus on improving the customer experience – which is terrific to see.”

ACMA had so far issued five formal warnings for breaches of the TCP Code and issued two more directions to comply with the code, a level that Bean said represented “good, smallish numbers”.

Monitoring of compliance with TCP Code requirements had also proved encouraging, with 233 companies – representing 95% of Australian consumers and 95% of complaints lodged with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) – lodging required communications compliance documents by mid April.

A further 180 providers should have lodged compliance documents but did not – and will face unspecified punitive action “shortly”, Bean said, noting that the agency “expects to be taking enforcement action with relation to those providers” in coming months.

TCP Code requirements around advertising language – monitored by ACMA in careful examinations of over 60 print and online advertisements – found an improvement in the use of words like ‘free’, ‘unlimited’, and ‘cap’ to ensure they are not used in a misleading way. These results generally reflected a “clear improvement in compliance compared with last year,” Bean said.

Bean released a discussion paper on mobile network performance designed to help establish the agenda of an ACMA-sponsored mobile network performance forum to be held in Melbourne on November 14.

The recent results of an ACMA/Newspoll customer experience survey suggested that 7 in 10 Australians are satisfied with the customer service from their telecommunications provider, with a strong link between satisfaction and the timing and resolution of complaints.

However, only about 1 in 2 people whose most recent contact with their telecoms provider was about a complaint, felt satisfied with the customer service. And while most customers who were offered some solution to their complaint felt it was fair, just over a quarter reported there was still no resolution.

These findings had reinforced the need for ACMA to focus on monitoring providers’ complaint handling outcomes, Bean said.

Another major activity currently underway was the monitoring of improved data-usage reporting requirements under which carriers are required to notify customers when they reach 50%, 85% and 100% of their data allowances. Stage 1 of those rules commenced last month, while stage two – for smaller providers, voice and SMS usage – kicks in next September.

In outlining ACMA’s priorities for the next year, Bean highlighted the need for continuing compliance monitoring efforts as well as increased clarity around mobile network performance.

To better inform the latter topic, Bean released a discussion paper on mobile network performance designed to help establish the agenda of an ACMA-sponsored mobile network performance forum to be held in Melbourne on November 14.

“Increasing numbers suggest that Australians’ experiences of mobile services are not aligned with their expectations of mobile networks,” Bean said. “This paper explores the factors that shape perceptions, good and bad, of mobile network performance – including key technical aspects of mobile performance and network management, and key aspects that relate to mobile network performance.”

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